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That's a Lot of Chopsticks
Apparently China's Ministry of Commerce has had it with disposable chopsticks. It sent out a warning to chopstick makers in June to warn them that: "Production, circulation and recycling of disposable chopsticks should be more strictly supervised." The reason? With about 45 billion disposable chopstick pairs made every year in the country, or about 130 million a day, a lot of wood is being wasted, and that in a country that is trying to increase its forest coverage (from about 8% in 1949 to 12-13% today, compared to 30% for the USA).
Greenpeace China has estimated that to keep up with this demand, 100 acres of trees need to be felled every 24 hours. Think here of a forest larger than Tiananmen Square -- or 100 American football fields -- being sacrificed every day. That works out to roughly 16 million to 25 million felled trees a year. Deforestation is one of China's gravest environmental problems, leading to soil erosion, famine, flooding, carbon dioxide release, desertification and species extinction. (source)
If you compare 100 acres per day to the size of China's forests, it still isn't that much (it's a big country), but chopsticks are far from the only thing pressuring Chinese ecosystems. It's one more thing the country's forests could do without.
Sadly, change has been slow so far. The Bring Your Own Chopsticks movement has been gaining momentum, but is still far from succeeding in changing people's minds (or even being on most people's radar). But there is some hope on the horizon: As China grows richer, more restaurants will be able to afford the equipment to wash and sterilize reusable chopsticks.