Chopsticks have a long and storied history, dating back to 2100 BC when Da Yu, the founder of the Xia dynasty, was trying to reach a flood zone. In his haste, he didn't want to wait for his food to cool down, and adapted two twigs to help him eat his food quickly. With the popularization of Asian food all over the world, chopsticks -- especially the disposable kind -- are now being used all over the world.
But throwaway chopsticks are an unmitigated environmental disaster. In China alone, 80 billion chopsticks are thrown away each year, requiring hundreds of acres of forest to be cut down every day just to keep up with the demand. In response, the Bring Your Own Chopsticks (BYOC) movement is gaining ground in places like Japan, China and Taiwan (most notably, in Korea metal chopsticks are used -- a good idea).
But what to do still with all those discarded chopsticks? Vancouver, Canada's Chopvalue has a great idea: cleaning them up and turning them into home accessories and furniture. Watch:
Chopvalue's founder, Felix Böck, is a doctoral student in the faculty of forestry at the University of British Columbia. The idea for the startup came when he realized how many chopsticks were thrown out every day. Böck estimates that in Vancouver alone over 100,000 pairs of these utensils are sent to the landfill every day.
Wanting to do something to address the problem, Böck invested in some recycling bins, and recruited restaurants to get their customers to throw their bamboo chopsticks in the recycling bin, rather than in the trash. These are then picked up by Chopvalue, and then taken to their lab, where they are cleaned, coated in resin and then hot-pressed with a machine to come up with a flat material.
These bamboo 'planks' are then cut and put together into a range of other things, like shelving, cutting boards, coasters and even furniture. This side table reuses over 3,800 chopsticks and also utilizes salvaged steel from local demolition sites.
For one of these hexagonal tiles, 300 chopsticks are upcycled into something useful and beautiful.
Chopvalue is now also offering yoga blocks made from recycled chopsticks.
So far, since its inception in July 2016, the company has recycled 800,000 chopsticks. Businesses also benefit from Chopvalue's free recycling service, and end up generating less waste and therefore paying less for waste disposal. While we know that it's better to refrain from using disposable chopsticks in the first place (remember the 7 R's), this is nevertheless a great example of how one small idea can help to tackle part of a big problem, in its own way. For more, visit Chopvalue.