One Time Use, Lifetime Impact: 4 Million Trees to Feed 1.3 Billion People

Story by Brittany Macchiarola  |  Video by Danielle Manfredi

Yang Hai Liang’s cooking talents have lent him to prepare dishes in more than ten countries around the world, but his love for Cantonese cuisine brought him home to China in 2006. He is the proud owner of Shanghai Yuan Pin Private Kitchen, a traditional Cantonese restaurant located in Shanghai. To maintain the traditional feeling of Cantonese cuisine in his restaurant, Liang prepares his food to every last detail, including even how it is eaten – with reusable chopsticks.

Changing Chopsticks

Shanghai’s most fashionable shopping district has a store that sells nothing by chopsticks

“Reusable chopsticks have a better texture than the one-time use chopsticks,” Liang said. “The touch and the feeling of the chopsticks add to the experience of Chinese cuisine.”

Liang is among restaurant owners making a positive impact on China’s fight against disposable chopstick waste, but others lag behind the transition. Several small snack bars and eateries continue to use disposable chopsticks for their convenient, affordable and on-the-go functionality. However, Liang said he saves nearly $360 a year on average by using reusable chopsticks in his restaurant.

Fighting the war against disposable destruction

While disposable chopstick waste doesn’t seem to be everyone’s top-of-mind environmental concern, growing populations and wasteful consumption have recently turned up the heat and attention on China.

Chopsticks Undercover

Danielle and Brittany take a portable Flip cam into a hotel wholesaler in Shanghai to find disposable chopsticks

As the world’s largest producer of wooden chopsticks, China alone produces more than 57 billion pairs a year, which equates to about 1.29 million square yards of forest, according to the China Forest Ministry. In fact, the equivalent of about 100 football fields of forest land is destroyed each day to keep up with the ever-growing population and demand for wooden chopsticks. If China continues its current rate of disposable chopstick consumption, the China Environmental Protection Foundation estimates that Chinese forests will be destroyed by 2020.

In 2006, the Chinese government took a stand against disposable chopstick waste and passed a new five percent tax on all disposable chopsticks. Unfortunately, the tax has yet to be as effective as it was originally intended.

It’s not too late

About 57 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are produced each year in China, which destroy 100 football fields of forestland each day. Photo: Tree Hugger

About 57 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are produced each year in China, which destroy 100 football fields of forestland each day. Photo: Tree Hugger

Though wooden chopstick use has already proved to be a hard habit for many Chinese to break, environmental activist groups like Greenpeace China refuse to give up the fight to disposable chopstick destruction. In 2010, the group “planted” four chopstick trees in Beijing built with 80,000 pairs of chopsticks collected in three weeks by students from nearby universities. Members acquired nearly 40,000 pledges from people who said they were going to discontinue their use of wooden chopsticks.

“China’s population is growing, which means less and less forest resources,” said Greenpeace China Forest Campaigner Aihong Li. “If people stopped using disposable chopsticks, we’d save almost four million trees a year.”

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Category: Emerging Economy