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Millions Celebrate Asian Mid-Autumn Festival with Mooncakes

Millions of people in Asia are celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival by exchanging boxes of mooncakes. But in Hong Kong, the tradition is scoring some bad points from environmental groups.

Sales of mooncakes are soaring in Hong Kong before the Mid-Autumn festival. Bakeries are packed with consumers spoiled for choice. There are lotus seed mooncakes, egg yolk mooncakes, ice cream mooncakes, ham mooncakes, bird's nest mooncakes and dozens of other varieties.

As much as the flavors, packaging counts for mooncakes - the more expensive they are, the more elaborate their colorful wrappings and ornate tin boxes.

Janus Chan is the general manager of Kee Wah Bakery, one of the oldest mooncake makers in Hong Kong.

"It is a better season than last year," she says. "Something like double digit (growth) over last year's sales. The economy is recovering so people's confidence is coming back and they are willing to spend money to celebrate."

And sensing the demand, mooncake producers have raised prices by at least five percent.

The golden brown round pastries symbolize family unity and are exchanged as gifts during the festival, which has its origins in an ancient fable about the moon.

On Sunday night, thousands of people in Hong Kong will gather in parks for a moonlight picnic featuring mooncakes, and light colorful lanterns and gaze at the moon - a custom believed to bring good fortune.

But the massive consumption of mooncakes poses an environmental headache. The Hong Kong chapter of the environmental group Friends of the Earth says the packages for the millions of mooncakes Hong Kong residents buy would fill at least 100 swimming pools. If all that wrapping were piled up, it would be taller than three football fields.

Friends of the Earth is urging people to recycle mooncake boxes. It aims to collect 200,000 of them this year in its "Moonkick Action" recycling campaign.

Director Chu Hahn says mooncake makers are heeding the call. "In the past two years the producers in Hong Kong, they reduced more than 16 million packaging items," he explains.

This year, some bakeries even began using recycled materials. Mr. Chu hopes the trend will continue in the years to come, so that Hong Kong families can enjoy the full moon without littering the Earth.