Across the globe, we humans throw away more than 80 billion pairs of chopsticks every year. AtlasObscura explains:
For more than 5,000 years, chopsticks have been the preferred dining utensil of a sizable swath of humanity. Nowadays, around a third of the global population uses chopsticks daily. This is both a fact of life and, given these implements are often single-use, a serious environmental problem.
Company staff pick up around 350,000 used chopsticks from 300-plus restaurants every week, all of which become book shelves, cutting boards, coasters, desks, and custom decorations. According to Böck, the startup has saved more than 50 million pairs of chopsticks from landfills since its launch.
Transforming a teriyaki sauce-slicked piece of bamboo into a rolling cabinet takes quite a bit of work. 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," Böck says.
For ChopValue to be more than a novelty, Böck knows that it needs to scale. The company recently received $3 million in funding and, in 2021, launched its first international franchise in Singapore. "We're trying to expand responsibly and chose to franchise the concept so that other business owners could own their own microfactories," he says.
I took a look at the products for sale on the ChopValue website, and they are really quite beautiful. They sell office furniture and accessories, as well as tables, shelves, all kinds of kitchen accessories (think coasters, cutting boards, and more), and even games like dominos and cribbage sets. And the prices aren't outrageous—they are what you'd expect from sustainably made work. AtlasObscura explains that each piece of furniture has a "negative net-caron impact," and each comes with information about how many chopsticks were re-used. A work desk, for example, uses 10,852 chopsticks that would otherwise probably have ended up in a landfill!