Bamboo – used in chopsticks – is among the world’s most sustainable tree species, with coppices harvested in four-year rotations without destroying the trees’ root systems. (Pixabay photo)

Bamboo – used in chopsticks – is among the world’s most sustainable tree species, with coppices harvested in four-year rotations without destroying the trees’ root systems. (Pixabay photo)

Why this Canadian company wants your used chopsticks

Pre-pandemic, well over 100,000 wooden utensils like chopsticks were discarded daily in Vancouver

By Marc Fawcett-Atkinson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

Last February, Felix Böck picked up a shipping container sent express from Disneyland and stuffed with a precious load: Single-use chopsticks the company couldn’t use because of a package design error.

The load was the first hint of a wooden tsunami for Böck, CEO of ChopValue, a Vancouver-based company that recuperates single-use chopsticks to turn them into everything from desks to dominoes. Since its founding in 2016, the company has kept millions of chopsticks out of landfills an effort, Böck said, to reduce waste produced by restaurants.

“We are a circular economy franchise. We identified the humble chopstick as one of the imported, disposable consumer items” ubiquitous in modern life, he said. “We thought it might be a really powerful tool to talk about underutilized resources and how much waste we have in our cities.”

Pre-pandemic, well over 100,000 wooden utensils like chopsticks were discarded daily in Vancouver, according to a 2018 study by Metro Vancouver. Most had been used an average of 20 minutes — after a roughly 9,000-kilometre journey from bamboo forests in China to restaurants in B.C.

Bamboo is among the world’s most sustainable tree species, with coppices harvested in four-year rotations without destroying the trees’ root systems. But even that breakneck rate of regrowth can’t make single-use chopsticks sustainable, Böck said.

Keeping them out of the landfills — where they decompose and produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas — and extending their useful life was his focus. Working with restaurants, he set up recycling bins and a collection system to gather the chopsticks their customers used. The collected wood was then brought to local manufacturing facilities to be transformed into more valuable goods, or “upcycled.”

Keeping those manufacturing facilities small and local is key, Böck said, as it allows more flexibility and provides local employment. It’s a model he hopes will be imitated by others aiming to set up manufacturing businesses.

The idea took off, drawing considerable media attention and expanding to Victoria, Montreal, and Los Angeles. In each city, they set up a full collection and manufacturing hub to reduce the transportation costs and emissions, according to a 2019 report by the company.

As of Jan. 4, the company reported recycling well over 32 million chopsticks, and more than half of that since mid-2019. While the pandemic has decimated restaurants, it has been a boon for ChopValue — and laid bare major flaws in the global chopstick supply chain, Böck said.

“We got in touch with all these big suppliers of chopsticks for the restaurant industry” when the pandemic hit last spring with hopes to glean chopsticks left unused by hard-hit restaurants, Böck said. “Imagine these thousands of chopsticks that are all individually branded. You obviously don’t deliver these overload chopsticks — which are perfectly fine chopsticks — to another restaurant that is differently branded.”

Without restaurant-goers to use them, those boxes of freshly manufactured chopsticks were destined for landfills.

New chopsticks are packaged in cardboard boxes lined with plastic, then each pair is protected by a small paper or plastic package, he said. Opening thousands of boxes of chopsticks to sort those materials and put them in the right waste stream — recycling for plastic and cardboard, compost for wood — is too much work. Had ChopValue not recuperated them, they would have probably ended up in a landfill.

Yet despite the surging business, Böck said the pandemic oversupply laid bare the vulnerabilities of the complex supply chains that move everything from chopsticks to carrots around the globe.

“What we learned through this pandemic is logistics have challenges, especially when we have to re-evaluate costs or priority goods,” he said. “It really, really interrupted so much of our supply chain. I hope there is a big transition … (to) local manufacturing.”

That could make it easier not only to recuperate and upcycle unused goods, as ChopValue has done but also allow for more control over what’s produced in the first place. Our supply chains haven’t always been so global: Canada’s chopsticks were produced here — at a factory in Fort Nelson, B.C. — until the late 1990s.

It’s that vision — more small, local manufacturers and less reliance on vulnerable global supply chains — Böck hopes his chopsticks will inspire.

“My vision is to have mass manufacturing made local,” he said.

Trending Now

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The WHL’s Victoria Royals will compete in a 24-game season starting March 26, <strong></strong>based out of a Kamloops and Kelowna B.C. division bubble (Kevin Light/Courtesy Victoria Royals)
‘Important to cherish every moment’: Victoria Royals not taking bubble season for granted

The Victoria WHL team’s coach and GM calls the season a ‘privilege,’ expects fierce rivalries

The Victoria Fire Department was able to contain a fire to one room after a bed placed directly against a heater ignited. (Black Press Media file photo)
Early morning Victoria balcony fire causes $20,000 in damages

Victoria Fire Department said nobody was injured in the fire on View Street

Camp Barnard during the 2019 Pacific Jamboree. (Photo: Camp Barnard)
Camp Barnard near Sooke hopes fundraiser will help it progress on accessibility goals

I Care ‘Bout Camp challenge hopes to raise $100,000 for new lodge, replaced kitchen

Saanich council recently adopted a 131-step climate action plan expected to cost $2.5-million in the first year of implementation. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tensions high as Saanich considers reigniting local area plan review

Majority vote pushes discussion to fall strategic plan check-in

Alphabet Zoo Early Learning Centre wants to relocate from Langford to 3322 Fulton Rd. in Colwood, but has not been approved for a P-6 zoning by Colwood council. Residents who neighbour the property, have expressed concern to the Goldstream Gazette regarding the potential daycare site. Neighbours Ryan Landa and Selene Winchester said the noise of construction has been disruptive to the area, and the property is not suitable for a daycare. (Photo contributed/Ryan Landa)
Proposed West Shore daycare stirs up controversy amongst neighbours

Neighbouring property owners are concerned about traffic, noise that a daycare would bring to the area

Const. Nancy Saggar, who has 11 years in policing, offers advice for other women who may pursue both policing and family. (Black Press Media file photo)
Pregnancy prompts sage advice from RCMP officer for women thinking about policing

West Shore constable with 11 years experience heads off on maternity leave

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

Hannah Ankenmann, who works with k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation, winces as she received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine administered by a Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Family Health nurse. (Zoe Ducklow photo)
Vancouver Island’s small remote towns to get community-wide vaccine clinics

Island Health to take a wholesale approach to immunization, rather than age-based appointments

Anyone with information is asked to call Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345 or contact Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-222-8477 or submitting a tip online at www.nanaimocrimestoppers.com.
21-year-old motorbike rider dies after crash with ATV on Nanaimo back road

Incident happened Sunday afternoon near Boomerang Lake

(Black Press Media files)
Hosts charged, attendees facing COVID fines after Vancouver police bust party at condo

Police had previously received 10 complains about that condo

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. A joint federal and B.C. government housing program announced today aims to help people living in up to 25,000 vulnerable households pay their rent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Federal, B.C. governments announce $517-million rent aid program to help vulnerable

Benefits for those not eligible for B.C.’s Rental Assistance Program or Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters

(BC SPCA)
Is it safe to give your dog some peanut butter? Not always, BC SPCA warns

Some commercial peanut butter ingredients can be harmful to dogs

Cole Moore with one of his sisters, Jasmin Moore. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island man looks to brain surgery for second chance

Fingers crossed that procedure can give Cole Moore a new lease on life after decade of seizures

Most Read