Outraged Diners Discover They’re Being Charged for Clean Air in China

The restaurant owners wanted customers to pick up the check for their air purification system.

Chinese commuters, many wearing masks, walk to work during heavy pollution on Dec. 9 in Beijing. (Getty Images/Kevin Frayer)

Dec 15, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

International leaders praised China on Saturday for agreeing to a landmark climate accord aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and capping global temperature rise. But for residents who live in the country, which has the world’s worst air pollution, evidence of smog-causing emissions is everywhere—including on a restaurant menu in the Jiangsu province.

Diners at an eatery in Zhangjiagang City, about 80 miles west of Shanghai, were surprised to find an extra charge on the bill to cover the cost of an air purification system the restaurant’s owners had recently purchased, the BBC reported on Monday. When customers complained about the fee of one Chinese yuan, equivalent to about 15 cents in U.S. currency, the city launched an investigation and determined that passing the cost on to diners was illegal. A government official told Xinhua News Agency that filtered air could not be sold as a commodity.

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But in a region where it’s not uncommon to see people wearing face masks to avoid inhaling pollutants, some consumers welcomed the chance to breathe easy while dining out, even if it meant coughing up a little extra money. On the Chinese blogging site Sina Weibo, several social media users said they’d happily pay the fee and suggested that the Chinese government require other businesses to install air purifiers, BBC News reported.

While the country has yet to levy a tax on clean air, it has in recent years increased its tax on fuels such as gasoline, solvent oil, and diesel in an effort to deter usage and reduce carbon emissions. But much of the damage to China’s air quality has already been done. Thick plumes of smog regularly blanket many of its large cities, and in Beijing last week, residents were subjected to their first ever "red alert"—the highest possible warning issued for dangerous levels of smog. The warning came while China and 185 other nations participated in climate negotiations in Paris, resulting in a 31-page agreement for slashing carbon emissions.