Like anyone who has ordered takeout sushi or Chinese food even once in their lives, I have a kitchen drawer full of the disposable chopsticks that always come with. Besides using one in a pinch as a shim or plant stake, I’ve never seriously thought about their reuse value. And, since they’re usually manufactured out of highly sustainable bamboo, I don’t have that pang of regret when I throw them out after polishing off that leftover cashew chicken. But it seems I’ve been sleeping on an untapped resource! In a recent profile, the always-satisfying Gastro Obscura introduced me to decor and furniture startup ChopValue. The Vancouver-based company transforms 350,000 used bamboo chopsticks from local restaurants each week and processes them into sleek items like shelves, cutting boards, and even office desks.
I admit my first question was about how they clean them; I definitely don’t want soy sauce residue lacing my breadboard. Author Diana Hubbell figuratively breaks it down (as ChopValue does literally):
“To remove any trace of food waste, the chopsticks are first coated in a water-based resin, then sterilized at 200 degrees Fahrenheit in a specialized oven for five hours. A hydraulic machine then breaks the wood down into a composite board, which is sanded, polished, and lacquered as necessary. ‘This material is then the core piece for everything from desks and table tops to home decor,’ [founder Felix] Böck says.”
Böck estimates that, since ChopValue’s inception in 2016, the company has prevented over 50 million pairs of chopsticks from ending up in landfills. In addition to those hefty moral points, they score design points as well: Their items look stylish and solid, with a gentle visual echo of their humble origins in the finish. I’m really impressed by this example of the circular economy in action. Now, let’s see if we can get on top of takeout-containers-as-purses, and plastic-forks-as-keychains, ASAP!