China is one of that countries which is looked at with envy and disgust, all at the same time. The grow rate of China’s economy is exemplary and with it comes the critic in regard to environmental pollution.
I’m not stating that China is exemplary in terms of diminishing and recycling packaging waste, but apparently few are aware of the efforts the Chinese government takes in this field. And to be honest, many a government worldwide can take China’s approach as an example.
Let’s have a brief look and judge for yourself. First I take as example “Zhong Qiu Jie” (the Harvest Moon Festival), and after that we look at China’s broader perspective in relation to packaging.
The exorbitance in packaging during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival or Harvest Moon can be compared to the levels of our Chocolate Easter Eggs and Christmas presents, although, in some countries, somewhat restricted over the last few years. This year (the date in the Western calendar changes annually) the Mid-Autumn festival was on Wednesday, September 22, 2010.
To celebrate the more than 3,000 years-old Mid-Autumn Festival on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, Chinese gather to admire the full harvest moon, as they believe that on that day, the moon is the roundest and brightest signalling a time of completeness and abundance, while sipping tea and feasting on pomelo fruit and a pastry covered sweet pie known as mooncake.
For centuries, the mooncake was the quintessential symbol of Mid-Autumn festival, but in recent years it has become a calling card of waste, extravagance, and obsequiousness. Last year, mooncakes were reportedly placed in gilded or jewelry-hemmed boxes, wooden or metal boxes, interiors cushioned with pure gold silk, exterior ornate decorations of carvings, coupled with brand-name watches, wines, and even gold Buddha statuettes as luxury gifts for bosses, officials and friends.
The price of a box could be as high as 10,000 yuan (USD 1,490).
Over-packaged luxury mooncakes have been lambasted for their association with materialism. They were branded environmentally unfriendly, as ornate mooncake boxes wastefully consumed paper, metal, wood and other materials, and were difficult to recycle.
And so, in compliance with the Excessive Packaging Law, issued by the Chinese State Council in February 2009, this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival mooncake packaging has changed drastically in China. As under this law, packages can contain only a maximum of three layers, and the cost of the packaging cannot exceed 12% of the product’s sales price, mooncakes departed from its usual extravagant multi-layered boxes to much simpler forms.
This year many mooncake stands in supermarkets were seen selling cheap individually wrapped mooncakes in plain clear plastic; consumers gathered around large bins at the stands handpicking the loose pastries. Prices of mooncakes have also dropped; even a well-designed high-end mooncake box sold in a Carrefour store in Beijing for CNY500 (USD 74).
With a packaging industry, now worth USD 81 billion, employing some 3 million people, and growing at an annual rate of 35%, it is not surprising that the Chinese government is, in an effort to acquire global environmental leadership, rapidly accelerating measures to reduce carbon emissions and increase reforestation. At the forefront of the national environmental programme are new laws that will control, monitor and ban a wide range of product packaging.
The Beijing government has implemented a range of new laws, standards and environmental regulations that govern and restrict packaging manufacturing processes, regulate design and require the recycling of all packaging materials. Since 2008 more than 20 new regulations have entered force in China that ban the import of certain types of packaging waste from overseas as raw materials, prohibit excessive packaging, restricting both volume and number of permitted packaging layers, curtail and tax the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag.
In a move similar to the EU’s REACH Measures, after 1 October 2010 all new chemical substances produced or imported into China will require analysis by local laboratories prior to registration – whether registered under REACH or not.
The principal of Extended Producer Responsibility – the producer pays – lies at the core of the new Chinese legislative process in which ‘the entity responsible for the pollution shall be responsible for the clean-up and the entity creating the package shall be responsible for the disposal’. This means taxes and levies.
New waste management legislation requires that all packaging must be reusable, recyclable or compostable – no other forms of packaging will be permitted to enter the market. Amendments to the Criminal Code can hold company directors and executives personally responsible for environmental pollution attracting penalties of up to seven years hard labour.
And does it have effect? Well, in 2009 alone, China produced 250,000 tons of mooncakes to welcome the Mid-Autumn festival, and the paper used in wrapping consumed more than 6,000 trees, according to the People’s Daily website. I have no figures about 2010, but apparently it has, as a salesperson in a Wal-Mart in Beijing, said: “Mooncakes are enveloped with less wrapping materials compared with last year, and more are in recyclable paper boxes than metal ones.”
Asian packaging expert and publisher of PackWebAsia, Stuart Hoggard explains “Over the years, many countries in the EU have explored the concept of legislating excessive packaging, but abandoned it for lack of common agreement between the various national interests. With a population larger than N. America and the EU combined, China now has the market and spending power to influence global demand, and in the near future we can expect China to exert considerably more influence following the introduction of its Packaging Recycling Master Plan, which will ban certain materials and processes from production in the country and from import.”
Basically, under this ‘Master Plan’, when passed into law ALL PACKAGING must be Recoverable, Reusable, Recyclable or Compostable. No other packaging will be acceptable.
1. If your are interested and like to know more, Stuart Hoggard wrote a report, titled “China’s Packaging & Environmental Laws”. Click the title for more information.
2. A part and some details are taken from the China News and an article, titled: “Mooncake packaging in China this year ‘slims down’” written by Trina Tan.