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Reuters/Aly Song
Would you like a blast of clean air with that?
YOU BREATHE IT YOU BUY IT

A restaurant in China billed its customers for providing “clean air”

By Richard Macauley

The local government in China’s Jiangsu province has had to step in to prevent one restaurant charging a fee for providing diners with clean air (link in Chinese).

The buffet restaurant attracted criticism for adding the one yuan ($0.15) charge because it failed to inform its customers of the fee before they ate. Instead, the charge was added to their check at the end of the meal.

“It was easy to refuse the restaurant’s two yuan per-person charge for a packet of napkins” said one Weibo user (link in Chinese) who posted a picture of the fee to the social media site. “But they definitely should have asked us first whether we wanted to pay the one yuan per-person clean air fee—it’s pretty hard to return that at the end of a meal!”

Weibo/Yangziwanbao
You’ve been served.

After receiving a number of complaints, the government ruled that the fee is an illegal charge, and has stopped restaurants from asking customers to pay for clean air. One official explained to Xinhua (link in Chinese), China’s state newswire, that because customers hadn’t requested purified air, it cannot be treated as a commodity.

Jiangsu province, on China’s east coast, was affected by the extreme smog that blanketed other parts of China’s northeast, including Beijing, over the past few weeks. It also borders Shanghai, which is now experiencing its own bout of unusually dense smog.

But Jiangsu’s restaurants weren’t the first companies—and certainly won’t be the last—to earn a buck out of cleaning China’s air. Home air purifiers are a common commodity in China, with brands like Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone maker, and Muji jumping on board with sleek gadgets. Dozens of other domestic brands are available across China (link in Chinese). And in public spaces, one mining equipment company has had success in selling “mist cannons” to cities as a way to combat smog.

Indeed, many comments on Weibo in fact supported the logic behind restaurants charging for cleaner air (link in Chinese). But only if they are told about it first.