No expense is spared when it comes to housing mooncakes. While most of us make do with 2 rooms or three, mooncakes often reside in 6-room bisonettes with high ceilings, spacious verandas and lavish furnishings.
Two years before, it was a faux-oriental cabinet with a set of tiny doors.
This year, I got a monogrammed trunk with 3 different compartments—one for tea, two for mooncakes. The exterior was finished in aquamarine pleather, while the inside was done up in the sort of expensive felt one often sees in jewellery cases.
However, nothing can compare to Lady M’s Jade Rabbit Zoetrope Mooncake box. The box is circular like a carousel, and it glows when you spin it because why not? If mooncake boxes can be briefcases, Ikea bookshelves, and avant-garde night lamps, who are we to stop the box from identifying as a merry-go-round?
Mooncake packaging, however, is on a whole different circle of hell. It’s like giving the environment a middle finger for no discernible reason. Even a climate-apocalypse agnostic like myself is loathe to witness the annual spectacle where we manufacture millions of lavish mooncake boxes only to throw them away barely 3 weeks later.
Never in the history of mankind is so much energy spent on redecorating a landfill.
This is different because most other plastic disposables at least make life easier or more convenient. Modern diapers unshackled young mothers from laundry duty while disposable needles mitigated the spread of AIDS or Hepatitis.
But what is the point of mooncake packaging?
The answer is fuck-all. Their only job is to look nice, and they manage to cock it up anyway. Disposable furniture or fashion will at least adorn you for half a year before they start gathering dust. Mooncake boxes amuse you for maybe 30 minutes—or one Instagram story—before they are cast aside and forgotten.
It doesn’t help that mooncake designers seem to have taken their cues from Empress Cixi. These days, every mooncake box looks like Barbie and Ken’s Malibu Dreamhouse. Every last one of them is a matryoshka doll of plastic and more plastic.
According to CNA, most mooncake boxes end up in an incinerator because the glossy laminate they use cannot be recycled.
As for reusing, it sounds like a good idea, but it’s utterly impractical in the long term.
The first mooncake box might make a great sewing kit, and you can use the second to store your keys or make-up. But what are you going to do with boxes 3, 15, and 37? Mid-autumn festival comes around every year, but the amount of marginally-useful crap in your house stays constant.
We can protest our innocence but the numbers don’t lie. Hong Kong throws away 2 million mooncakes every year because people enjoy giving mooncakes more than they enjoy consuming them. Hence, It’s safe to assume that a similar amount will end up in Pulau Semakau this year.
And isn’t that the truth of it? What fuels the decadence of the modern mooncake is not heritage or history, but a pointless corporate circle-jerk which has turned tradition into an obligation as joyless as the half-windsor necktie. Every year, we build palaces for our mooncakes not because anyone enjoys doing so, but because corporate protocol expects it. Somewhere along the line, zhongqiu jie became a custom as insincere and as wasteful as the influencer wedding.
After all, most mooncakes made for family consumption are sensibly packaged. It’s only the ones destined for potential clients that defy logic. And what for? There are surely better ways to build business relationships than by throwing pucks of over-dressed lotus paste in their general direction.
However, I see no need to destroy the earth whilst I’m destroying my life. There’s honestly too many mooncakes and they come with too much needless packaging. If we take all the plastic used during Mid-Autumn festival and melt it down, there’s probably enough material to build an elevator to the moon itself.
So here’s a hopeful—if doomed—suggestion. Instead of everyone buying and sending mooncakes, why not just buy some in plain, minimal packaging and serve them on nice plates with a cup of tea? When your clients come over for a meeting, they just eat the mooncakes with their hands and judge them by the quality of lotus paste or the crumbliness of the yolk. That way, mooncake exchange is actually about eating mooncakes, and not about hoteliers trying to win a pointless arms race at the environment’s expense.
If we can summon the outrage for hipster rainbow food, I’m sure we can do something for mid-autumn’s wastefulness. At the very least, we could make mooncake boxes with three layers of packaging instead of six. Chinese culture has survived much and more over the 20th century, I’m sure it can live without a few stupid boxes.