HONG KONG - At a community center on Shek Lei public housing estate in northern Hong Kong, stacks of mooncake boxes are waiting to be distributed on Mid-Autumn Festival the following day.
Inside they contain some of the 76,000 mooncakes that have been collected by Food Grace, a local charity, this holiday season to be redistributed to low-income families and individuals.
Most are leftovers from manufacturers, says Food Grace Project Officer Casey Ng, who over-produced in an attempt to cash in on the Chinese tradition of exchanging boxes of mooncakes with friends and family each autumn – now a $2 billion international industry.
“I would say the excessive situation has been there [historically], but it’s kind of a growing situation because some mooncake manufacturers have to record higher sales each year,” he said.
Redistributing mooncakes is just one solution in how to tackle the more than 2 million mooncakes, valued at least $12.8 million, that will be thrown out after in Hong Kong alone after Mid-Autumn Festival.
Ng attributed much of the glut to the trend for new flavors each year or expensive luxury varieties of mooncakes.
While mooncakes, calorie-dense flaky pastries meant to represent the full moon, are traditionally made with simple fillings like red bean or egg yolk, they now come in a range of flavors from chocolate to pandan or vanilla custard.
An ordinary box of four retails for around $25, but specialty boxes produced by high end hotels or luxury manufactures can sell for over $100 each in complex packaging.
While they are exchanged between family members, they are also often given out at work to mark a business relationship.
The exchange, though, can become a financial and social burden, according to Ng, which is why Food Grace has also created a mooncake charter for companies to pledge not to share them at work.
“We have to educate or we have to encourage them that [even if] you are not sending a mooncake as a gift, [it] does not harm your relationship with your partners or with your employees,” Ng said.
“We have run some surveys and people actually don’t want to receive mooncakes anymore,” he added, saying they often end up with too many.
Convincing individuals, however, to donate their mooncakes is still taking time to catch on, according to Conrad Tsang, another project officer.
“If they have a religious background, say if they are Buddhist or Christian, they might have more motivation to do something like that but let’s just say ordinary folk [no],” he said.
While Food Grace placed collection boxes in over 60 locations around Hong Kong, most of the mooncakes they received are still from manufacturing companies.
While giving away gifts is a well-established Hong Kong tradition, he felt giving to charity was still not as strong – one reason so many mooncakes may still end up in the trash this year, uneaten.