Mooncakes Are China’s Fruit Cake—Traditional Holiday Gifts No One Actually Wants

Last year, China threw away 2 million of them


Last year, China threw away 2 million mooncakes—the little cakes eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. According to the Wall Street Journal, the country has 10,000 mooncake makers, who last year produced more than 300,000 tons of the sweets. And many of them, along with their elaborate packaging, ended up in landfills. So many, in fact, that this year the Chinese government has issued guidelines to cut down on the mooncake waste.

The guidelines lay out rules about packaging, urge manufacturers to reduce, reuse and recycle and to choose materials that are easier on the environment, should the cakes be tossed in the trash. Mooncake disposal isn’t a new problem, either. In the past, the government has issued rules that the cost of packaging the little cakes cannot exceed the cost of making the treats by more than 25 percent.

According to Green Power, a Hong Kong–based environmental group, the number of mooncake casualties hasn’t really gone down. They say that the average household purchases 2.4 boxes of mooncakes—often intended as gifts. Multiply that by the number of people celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival, and you’re at 4.6 million units of cake.

The Journal‘s Te-Ping Chen says that the best way to cut the mooncake craze might not be regulation, at all, but rather painting mooncakes as an evil excess:

But in the end, the most effective catalyst for trimming Mid-Autumn waste may be China’s anti-corruption drive, with the Communist Party recently making mooncakes the latest casualty of its quest to keep officials clean. Last month, the state-run People’s Daily announced a drive for more mooncake austerity, saying that “polite reciprocity, when overdone, becomes a kind of squandering of cash.” According to a People’s Daily report last week, sales of luxury mooncakes this year have dropped by as much as 12% in certain locations.

So, it seems that, in China, the new orders are: “Let them not eat cake.”

The Mooncake: A Treat, a Bribe or a Tradition Whose Time Has Passed?

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