The small round pastries known as moon cakes are traditional gifts in several Asian countries at this time of the year. But environmentalists are concerned about the enormous amounts of waste the elaborate packaging of the cakes generates. As Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong, some moon cake producers there have started to take notice and are going green this year.
This weekend, people in China, Hong Kong, the Koreas and Vietnam celebrate the mid-autumn or moon festival, which marks the arrival of the full moon.
It is one of the happiest celebrations of the year, with families and friends gathering to admire the full moon. Children often carry around colorful lanterns. And no autumn festival would be complete without the ample consumption of moon cakes, which are on sale everywhere for weeks before the celebrations. Traditionally, moon cakes are round, symbolizing the full moon, and are filled with egg yolks and red bean or fruit paste.
In places like Hong Kong, most moon cakes are sold in beautiful lavish gift boxes.
But Edwin Lau, assistant director of the Hong Kong environmental organization Friends of the Earth says moon cake packaging is wasteful and disastrous for the environment of the city.
"Every year during the mid-autumn festival in Hong Kong, our consumers consume about three to four million boxes of moon cakes so that means at least three to four million empty moon cake boxes will need to be disposed somewhere in our landfills," he said.
The organization says a four-piece moon cake box, which is often made of metal, uses on average 13 packaging units including plastic-wrapped disposable knifes and forks.
The green group started campaigning for simpler packaging three years ago. Initially, producers did not react. But slowly, attitudes have started to change. This year, three of Hong Kong's largest moon-cake makers have agreed to reduce wrappings or use recycled materials. The modified products bear a special logo developed by Friends of the Earth to give consumers a choice.
Lau says that 20 of the biggest companies in the territory, including banks and utility companies, have also pledged to go green this year when buying moon cakes for customers and staff.
"They will ask their colleagues, had an internal memo to their colleagues to ask them when they buy moon cakes to buy simple packages," he said. "Some of them insist that they order simple packages from some of the producers this year. As a tradition they will offer moon cakes to some of their customers or some of their staff members. We are very happy to see big corporates (corporations) really understand environmental problems and react to it."
In China, the world's biggest producer of moon cakes, the environmental group All-China Environment Federation has also launched a campaign this year urging factories to produce and customers to buy simply packaged moon cakes.