Food & Travel, Shopping & Consumption

Cut The Crap: Chopsticks Chop Trees


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Muni on this:

Before you crack those chopsticks apart to enjoy that yummy dimsum or lip-smacking ramen, do you consider where these come from and where they go afterwards?

Each year, about 57 billion disposable pairs of chopsticks are manufactured in China – the equivalent of 3.8 million trees, according to statistics from that nation’s national forest bureau [1], or an estimated 100 acres of birch, poplar and bamboo forest a day. [2]

50% of disposables are consumed within China. 38.5% is exported to Japan, 10.5% to South Korea and 1% percent to the United States. [1] When China imposed a tax on wooden chopsticks to help the environment, Japan, which boasts one of the world’s highest forest coverage rates at 69%, simply started to import from more suppliers in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Russie instead of opting for more sustainable alternatives.

What have others done to counteract further deforestation and increasing waste?

As far back as 2007, the Chinese government also introduced a 5% tax on all disposable wooden chopsticks due to petitions from schoolchildren and citizens’ groups. [3] In an effort to show the effects of the use of chopsticks on forests, 200 students from 20 Chinese universities collected 82,000 pairs of used disposable chopsticks from Beijing restaurants, with which they produced four trees, each 16 feet high, to create a “disposable forest.” [1]

Chopstick forest
Photo c/o New York Times

Debates on environment vs. health issues of disposable and reusable chopsticks

“I would be happy to stop using wooden chopsticks for environmental concerns, but some diners prefer them for hygiene reasons.” Wang Yucheng, who runs a restaurant in Beijing, said. [3]

But disposable chopsticks pose risks on consumers and the environment too, environmental group Greenpeace says. Industrial-grade sulfur, paraffin, hydrogen peroxide and insect repellent are some of the harmful chemicals that have been exposed in chopstick production.  [1]

However, the alternative melamine-resin chopsticks have a notoriously high formaldehyde content, which isn’t safe for the environment or diners’ health either. [2]

So what can you do?

This article only aims equip you with some knowledge about the impact of chopsticks on the environment and our health, and I’ve tried to provide some information on the downside of reusable chopsticks as well to be fair. And you can make your own decision based on that.

But my personal choice will be to be part of the BYOC (Bring Your Own Chopsticks) movement, so that I can be sure of my chopsticks’ sanitation, if not for its production. Chopsticks are compact and can fit into any of the bags I use on a daily basis, reducing not only my need for disposable chopsticks, but any sort of disposable cutlery as well. 🙂

What would you do?

Featured photo c/o David Lambert via Trek Lens

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