China’s Chopstick Crisis

Usually when one hears about rates of global deforestation, you get stats such as “Amazonian rain forests are being decimated at a rate of 2.4 acres per second.” But recently I’m hearing more about the amount of forest being razed to create disposable / one-time-use chopsticks throughout Asia:

China now produces and discards more than 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks every year, cutting down as many as 25 million trees in the process, according to government statistics. Another 15 billion pairs are exported to Japan, South Korea and other countries. At the current rate of timber use, environmentalists warn, China will consume its remaining forests in about a decade.

And despite China’s great land mass, they’re importing 60 million cubic meters of timber yearly to meet demand. To make matters worse, the Chinese government actively encouraged disposable chopstick use for years to inhibit communicable disease. There is a nascent environmental movement in China which encourages people to carry their own non-disposable chopsticks, but I’ve heard from Chinese environmentalists that environmentalism in China gets even more strange looks than it does in the U.S.

So… what happens in a decade, when all of China’s forests are gone?

Music: Minutemen :: Beacon Sighted Through Fog

9 Replies to “China’s Chopstick Crisis”

  1. OK, that’s just plain disturbing. But let me point you to my favorite chopsticks of all time (I originally thought they were titanium, but at 1 oz. in stainless steel, what’s the f’in’ point?):

    Snowpeak Carry-On Chopsticks:

    Kudos to places like Zao’s that have plastic chopsticks, too!

  2. “So… what happens in a decade, when all of China’s forests are gone?”

    A huge opportunity opens up for selling forks to the Chinese.

  3. Kudos to places like Zao’s that have plastic chopsticks

    Um, yeah, but trees are a renewable resource — they regrow — while plastic is made of petroleum, which is not renewable.

  4. Chris-

    Point taken, but what solution do you recommend? Continuing to throw out the wooden chopsticks into the trash after using them once? It be nice if there was the ability of recycling wood products to be used for paper (if that would be even feasible)… I know there are reusable wooden (lacquered) ‘sticks out there, but I’m not sure how they would handle the demands of restaurant use.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could just insist people to bring their own? Using your own “renewable” lacquered sticks would satisfy your fear while also not having to worry about public-health requirements on dishwashing.

  5. i was looking for tabs for nina simone and found your website. you only mentioned her once (the day after her death) last year, but i’ve been here for about 30 minutes now reading your entries. you’re funny. and smart. and all that. i’m not apparently… be well.

  6. Brian—

    Recycling yes, if feasible, but I think requiring or strongly encouraging lacquered/plastic sticks makes the most sense. With enough pressure the Chinese govt will come around to that, and if anyone can enforce a wooden chopstick ban, they can. Or else I see them planting a LOT more forests, which isn’t all bad either.

  7. I thought that chopsticks were made from bamboo. And I was told that if I plant bamboo in my yard to plant it in concrete because it spreads like crazy. I would think that if bamboo spreads like that that it would be a great renewable resource. I even see adds for bamboo flooring because it is a renewable source.

  8. gattaca, I know that some chopsticks are bamboo, but I don’t think most disposable ones are – they just don’t look or feel like bamboo to me. My guess is that it’s too skinny to be as economical to harvest en masse as actual timber.

  9. There is the same dilemma with CFC use in the developing world. They don’t have to go CFC-free for a few years yet.

    Basically, it’s better that people get to refrigerate their food and so prevent food poisoning than the ozone layer’s hole gets plugged a few years earlier. What’s a few years when it will take a couple of hundred years of non-CFC use to fix the problem?

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