The Problem With Disposable Chopsticks

11.17.2016

0800

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Asian cuisine is one of the most popular types of food in the world.  With China alone feeding a population of over 1 billion people, it’s important to consider how the utensils commonly used are impacting the environment.  Throwaway chopsticks that are commonly used in most Asian restaurants are mostly made of wood, not plastic, and the statistics behind them are staggering:

  • In China, about 57 billion (that’s “billion”!) pairs of wooden disposable chopsticks are made each year. Cottonwood, birch, spruce and bamboo are the main sources of these one-use chopsticks.
  • Half of these disposables are used within China itself. Of the other half, 77 percent are exported to Japan, with South Korea taking most of the remainder.
  • About 24 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are used in Japan each year. This is equivalent to nearly 200 pairs per person per year.
  • Globally, about 1.4 billion people throw away 80 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks each year
  • In the U.S., Americans threw out 31 million tons of plastic — including plastic utensils — in 2010, making up 12.4 percent of the nation’s municipal solid waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 8 percent of that plastic waste was recovered from recycling.

The impact of so many discarded chopsticks is of course unsustainable. With China now the world’s largest importer of wood, governmental organizations are aware that the nation cannot sustain the level of deforestation needed to manufacture so many throwaway products. In 2006 China imposed a 5% tax on disposable chopsticks, a move which resulted in a drop in manufacturing.

“We must change our consumption habits and encourage people to carry their own tableware,” said Bo Guangxin recently at a gathering of China’s National People’s Congress. The chairman of Jilin Forestry Industry Group noted that only 4,000 chopsticks can be created from a 20-year-old tree, 2 million of which were being cut down each year to produce them. Even more radically, Bo Guangxin suggested that restaurants might have to offer metal knives and forks instead of traditional chopsticks.

Deforestation caused by so much wood use not only harms the local environment – leading to mudslides and weakened resilience against flooding – but also affects global warming by the removal of trees which capture and store CO2.

Out of all the animal protein options available, I tend to favor fish. My friends and family are also big sushi fans. Whenever we go out we tend to chose sushi diners to indulge ourselves with. (Good thing is that sushi fills us up quickly.) Almost every sushi restaurant I’ve ever been to, uses disposable wooden chopsticks. I always felt bad for using these chopsticks because I know that all of these chopsticks will end up in the landfill. For this reason, I added a pair of chopsticks to my travel utensil bag. It is a bit odd to pull it out during diner at times, but then again, making waves is always odd in the beginning.

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