Mooncakes & Glowsticks

The Mid-Autumn Festival this Sunday is one of the most important holidays in the Chinese calendar and traditionally, family and friends would gather in the evening to celebrate by eating festive fruits and mooncakes.  In Hong Kong a lot of people head to Victoria Park after dinner to marvel at the festive lantern scenes (pictured above) or go to one of the many beaches to enjoy the Harvest Moonrise.

Traditionally the Mid-Autumn Festival  featured mooncakes, lanterns and candles.  Nowadays we see a modern twist on these festival items.  The traditional egg yolk & pastry mooncake now also comes in chocolate form (yum!), paper lanterns are being replaced by tacky battery powered nylon and plastic that don’t even last the night, candles still proliferate but glowsticks are now  the number one ‘must have’ item.

What was once a celebration to give thanks for a good Autumn Harvest, now seems to be a night for waste & excess.

Very low quality lanterns, candles and glow in the dark toys are readily available in supermarkets and convenience stores, nothing but plastic, crepe paper and cheap batteries.  All designed for one night’s use and then to be thrown away in a landfill.

The packs shown above contain 40 glowsticks (also sold in packs of 100) with at least 20 attachment pieces for joining sticks together.

The chemicals inside the glowsticks are not something you want to leach out onto your child’s skin.  Yes the labels are printed stating the product is ‘non-toxic’, ‘non-flammable’, and thank goodness … ‘non-radioactive’  but it doesn’t mean they are safe.  Some of the chemicals used for the chemiluminescense in the past were known to be carcinogenic and depending on what is in them now (and who really knows??) could still be.  The glow stick contains two chemicals (hydrogen peroxide and diphenyl oxalate) as well as a suitable fluorescent dye (which could be a fluorophor or sensitizer – the sensitizers are polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons; an organic pollutant that can be highly toxic).  When the 2 chemicals mix they also release phenol.  All of this is not nice for kids to play with and certainly from an environmental point of view, not nice when the plastics breakdown on the beach, in the sea or in landfill seeping chemicals into the water, sand or earth.

The morning after the celebrations the beach is always covered with hundreds of glowsticks.  Many are already floating off in the sea.  Some are buried in the sand and a huge number are dumped in bins.  Not recyclable or reusable, fun for the kids for the few hours they last but at what long term cost?

Hundreds of plastic bottles litter the beach, mooncake tins filled with candle wax and sand are left, lighters galore, broken lanterns, food wrappings, glass bottles, bamboo mats and paper everywhere.  It is a sad sight coming down the beach the next day.  The attitude of some people that it is ok to create so much waste and take no responsibility for it is dreadful.  What does this teach kids?  They learn about the lantern festival in schools and then they celebrate like this?

We are lucky in Discovery Bay, sitting on the beach watching the moon rise over Hong Kong is very special.  But how can you appreciate the beauty of the night and then leave a scourge on the earth after.  It makes no sense.  I am all for celebrating and having fun and don’t want the kids to ‘miss out’ on anything but celebrating responsibly can’t be too difficult surely.

Buy less.  Does one child need 40 glowsticks?  Take your child’s own handmade lantern.   Use quality rechargeable LED torches.  Take your rubbish away when you leave and recycle what you can.  Don’t bury wax in the sand.  Pick up extinguished candles.  Buy mooncakes with minimal packaging.  Remove a bit extra rubbish off the beach when you leave and set a good example.

This is a modern problem and we need a modern attitude to fix it.

Wishing you and your family a happy Mid-autumn Festival  祝你和你的家人中秋快乐

www.plasticfreeseas.org

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