Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong: Festival of Waste and Damage

To many people living in Hong Kong, celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival with family and friends outdoors under the full moon night is a routine that could not be missed during this fall harvest season.

With the long local tradition of celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival with mooncakes and lanterns, people in modern days have generated more amusing ways to get through the long, dark night while admiring the moon and enjoying the festival in public parks or other outdoor areas. It is common to see people playing with glow sticks and candles, getting well-prepared with foods and drinks, or even a tent to have their little festive glamping there.

Unfortunately, not everyone has cleaned up their trash responsibly. It has morphed the Mid-Autumn Festival into a festival of waste and leftovers, and it has even become habitual. This year, one of the most popular places for celebration, The Kwun Tong Promenade, has intrigued a lot of people to come and check out the “instagramable” 15-metre high inflatable moon illuminated installation “Fly Me To The Moon” afloat on a tugboat in the Kwun Tong typhoon shelter.

People taking photos of the moon illuminated installation “Fly Me To The Moon” during the Mid-Autumn Festival night at Kwun Tong Promenade (Photo: Andris Ho)

With this glorious installation fulfilling people’s desire of taking photogenic pictures at the festival, people coming to Kwun Tong Promenade to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival night increased apparently even amid the pandemic. But still, lots of people, especially teens and kids are enjoying their time with candles and glow sticks, which have been notorious for not being eco-friendly. They are made of indigestible plastic and chemicals which are hazardous to the environment, and also dangerous to humans as the chemicals inside could be harmful to the eyes and irritating to the skin – definitely not safe for children to play with.

People gathering and playing with lanterns, candles glow sticks during the Mid-Autumn Festival night at Kwun Tong Promenade (Photo: Andris Ho)

Candles and glow sticks can be easily spotted everywhere during the Mid-Autumn night, but as the clock strikes midnight, and people start to leave, trash including cans, snack packages, and plastic bags are left almost everywhere along the promenade public area. With all the bins already reaching their capacity, a lot of rubbish is thrown randomly around them and plastic bags full of rubbish were hung on the fence improperly. Some of the plastic bags hung were not even fastened and left on the ground.

More terribly, recycle bins adjacent to rubbish bin were also full, while rubbish inside were all apparently not distinguished and cleaned properly – most of the people only wanted to get rid of rubbish they produced but not be responsible for it.

Takeaways boxes filled in unfastened plastic bags left on a garden during the Mid-Autumn Festival night at Kwun Tong Promenade (Photo: Andris Ho)
Plastic bags filled with rubbish hung on the fence during the Mid-Autumn Festival night at Kwun Tong Promenade (Photo: Andris Ho)
Rubbish put upside the glass bottle recycle bin during the Mid-Autumn Festival night at Kwun Tong Promenade (Photo: Andris Ho)

This situation, however, does not only happen during the Mid-Autumn Festival but during most of the festivals and times when huge crowds gather in Hong Kong, which is now habitual and has been exacerbating for years and years.

Controversies regarding waste produced during the Mid-Autumn Festival have been heavily discussed over the years, according to the latest data unveiled by a local environmental group, Green Power, 1.93 million mooncakes and over 40 million glow sticks were wasted in 2019. Hong Kong families still show no tendency to cease using glow sticks and candles for the Mid-Autumn Festival celebration. Most families also lean towards buying or receiving excessive mooncakes, which result in serious consequences of producing tons of waste and leftovers.

Apart from problems caused by leftover rubbish and waste, candles are also in the row of troubling our environment and are dangerous to the environment and human beings. Every year during this period, Government advertisements warning against wax burning can be found everywhere, especially in public parks. Wax-burning is an infamous tradition for local teens during the Mid-Autumn Festival and is highly alerted by the public after several serious accidents that happened in the early 2000s.

While in this year, fortunately, no serious accident due to wax-burning was found, but a case of vandalism due to wax-burning was found on Cheung Chau and has caused severe damage to the facility, according to Leung Kwok Ho Super, previous district councillor of Cheung Chau.

A public pavilion was found damaged due to wax-burning on the day following Mid-Autumn Festival on Cheung Chau (Photo: Leung Kwok Ho Super)

Wax-burning, sky-lanterns-flying, and illegal littering have been some major problems occur habitually during the Mid-Autumn Festival for many years. Although illegal littering could be liable to a penalty of $1,500 and the maximum penalty for burning wax, throwing objects onto trees, or flying sky lanterns is a fine of $2,000 and 14 days’ imprisonment, it continues to happen every year and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department under Hong Kong Government has always been accused by the general public especially environmental groups for misgoverning.

With the municipal solid waste charging bill being passed by the Legislative Council and confirmed to be carried out very soon, it might be changing Hongkongers’ habits of throwing rubbish and we might see a different Mid-Autumn Festival in the foreseeable future. The bursting landfill sites would not be able to cover the monumental waste problem we are having now in Hong Kong, as overwhelmingly shown in Mid-Autumn Festival this year. To maintain sustainability not only in Hong Kong but all over the globe, it is time to abandon those celebrations which harm the environment, before it is too late.

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