Hong Kong’s Mid-Autumn Festival, synonymous with the hanging of radiant lanterns and the indulgence in sumptuous mooncakes, illuminates not only the night sky but also an aspect of society that often remains shadowed – the paradox of simultaneous excess and need. Mooncakes, a traditional baked delicacy rich with sweet fillings and often harboring a salted egg yolk, symbolize the full moon and are frequently exchanged amongst family, friends, and business associates during the festival. However, an often-overlooked consequence of this widely practiced cultural tradition is the substantial waste produced, both in terms of unsold and unused food and the copious packaging that accompanies these ornate treats.
Indeed, millions of mooncakes are discarded annually, and the staggering volumes of luxurious packaging end up cluttering Hong Kong’s almost-saturated landfills. Non-governmental organisation Food Grace has spotlighted the issue, asserting that approximately 3.2 million mooncakes were disposed of in the previous year. Moreover, 80% of surveyed households by the same organization acknowledged the critical issue of extraneous mooncake packaging, echoing a call for increased attention from authoritative bodies.
In response, food bank Feeding Hong Kong, in collaboration with Food Grace, is spearheading initiatives to curb what’s been colloquially dubbed “mooncake madness” by organizing collection and redistribution of surplus mooncakes to over 100 charities. Edmond Leung, project director of Feeding Hong Kong, shared that in the past half-decade, over 80,000 mooncakes have been rescued and redistributed, assisting vulnerable demographics such as low-income families and seniors who may be grappling with not just financial strain but also isolation during festive seasons.
Similarly, Hanuman Charity, conceived amidst the turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic, has initiated a mooncake donation drive aimed not just at mitigating waste but also at establishing connections with the underprivileged, such as underpaid workers and isolated elderly individuals. Founder Naveen Sadhwani and his daughters advocate for joy and community, making visits to elderly homes to not only share donated mooncakes but also to share time, conversations, and games, weaving a fabric of community where it may have worn thin.
The environmental toll of food wastage cannot be underscored enough. Data from the Environmental Protection Department unveils that around 3,255 tonnes of food waste is created daily, accounting for 30% of Hong Kong’s total municipal solid waste. Moreover, a hefty 68% of this waste originates from households, shedding light on the criticality of pivoting consumer behaviors toward more sustainable practices. The decomposition of food in landfills yields methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, thus intertwining the issues of food waste, poverty, and environmental sustainability into a critical nexus that demands attention.
Feeding Hong Kong aspires to mitigate this challenge by rerouting surplus food away from landfills, instead directing it toward those who face food scarcity. Gabrielle Kirstein, the founder of Feeding Hong Kong, pointed out the heartbreaking reality of abundant food wastage juxtaposed against a backdrop where almost a quarter of Hong Kong’s population, equating to 1.65 million individuals, linger below the poverty line.
As Hong Kong rejoices under the luminescent glow of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the tales of excess, waste, need, and benevolence weave a complex narrative that beckons reflection. This narrative does not merely illuminate the issues at hand but also underscores opportunities for synergy, where tradition, celebration, and indulgence can harmoniously coexist with sustainability, altruism, and benevolence. This is a festivity that not only venerates cultural heritage but also silently invites introspection on the possibilities of intertwining joy with mindfulness, prosperity with generosity, and tradition with evolution. And perhaps, in the glow of the lanterns, a path towards a more sustainable and compassionate future can be illuminated, where no mooncake, nor person, is left behind.