“Bungkus” or “tapao”. Probably, the most universal words used in Malaysia. We say it whenever we want to take away food from restaurants or hawker stalls. Needless to say, taking away food is very much a part of Malaysian culture, so much so that we have special words for it.
With that in mind, have you ever wondered how often we use and just throw away wooden chopsticks when we do takeaway food? What about when we eat food like satay? Have you ever considered how many wooden skewers are used? If you add them all up, don’t you think there are tons of wooden chopsticks and skewers being thrown away after just a single use? Well, you’d be right. On a global scale, we consume 80 BILLION pairs of chopsticks each year, and that surely equates to tons of trees being chopped down just to produce these chopsticks. However, a Canadian company called ChopValue decided to do something to make use of them.
ChopValue’s story began in 2016, when Felix Böck, who was then a Ph.D. student at Canada’s University of British Columbia, wondered how he could convince people that there’s no such thing as waste, but rather just wasted resources. Thalia Otamendi, who is now Felix’s fiancée, suggested that he start with something small like chopsticks. With that, ChopValue was born and four years on, it has recycled more than 33 MILLION pairs of chopsticks – diverting these chopsticks from landfills and creating employment for 40 people.
How does ChopValue recycle these chopsticks you ask? Well, ChopValue’s simple yet ingenious plan is to upcycle these wooden chopsticks into furniture and household items. SO COOL! If furniture and household items are made of wood, and chopsticks are made of wood, why not make furniture and household items out of chopsticks?! ChopValue has been upcycling these disposable utensils into a modern, minimal line of furniture and home goods, and they look amazing!
Take a look at a couple of items they’ve been making.
ChopValue’s production process to convert ordinary disposable chopsticks to high-quality furniture and household items begin by collecting used disposable chopsticks from about 300 restaurants around Vancouver. When they’re brought back to the plant, the utensils are sorted, coated in a water-based resin, and baked in a 200-degree oven for five hours to kill all germs. They’re then broken down and loaded into a massive hydraulic machine that compresses the individual sticks into a composite board, which finally is sanded and fashioned into a variety of high-quality, and aesthetically pleasing wooden products. With this process, and as mentioned before, ChopValue has recycled more than 33 million pairs of disposable chopsticks.
It’s crazy to think that such a simple concept has created such an impact. An article by Rainforest Action Network in 2017 stated that 3.5 billion to 7 billion trees are cut down per year, and that timber harvesting is a major contributing factor to forest loss (37%). Just imagine the number of trees that we could save from being chopped down if every nation adopts what ChopValue is doing, but on a much grander scale. With global warming and climate change an ever-present concern, governments should be pushing their people to live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle and enhance their environmental conservation efforts.