China's 80 billion-a-year chopstick habit has serious impact on forests

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

China's ever increasing demand for disposable chopsticks is taking an serious and ever growing toll on the country's forests, Chinese state media reports.

waste wooden chopsticksAccording to Bai Guangxin, chairman of Jilin Forestry Industry Group, China produces 80 billion disposable chopsticks per year, up sharply from the 57 billion estimated by the state forestry administration in 2010. Bai told Xinhua that 20 million trees are felled annually to meet demand. He didn't specify the origin of the trees, but domestic sources would mostly come from forest plantations since the country banned natural forest logging after devastating floods in 1998.

Bai said that chopstick demand risks undermining the country's reforestation and afforestation targets. Accordingly, he recommended that people carry their own chopsticks when they dine out at restaurants.

Previous efforts to stem the use of disposable chopsticks – including a use tax in 2006 and a threat of increased government regulation in 2010 – have apparently failed.

If it is true that the the timber for those chopsticks comes from domestic sources and in that case from plantations which have been created and are managed for this purpose then this is one thing and a lot more sustainable. However, if foreign sources and natural forest logging is part of this then things look different altogether.

While everyone immediately panics when the talk is of trees being cut for the production of this or that the source of the tree is what matters. It is the same with chopstick production as with paper.

That is to say that is the sources are from sustainably managed plantations, as is the case for most of the paper industry, for instance, the fact is that were it not for this particular industry those forests would not even exist.

On the other hand, if the wood is sourced in other ways then we do have a serious problem, especially if not replanting is undertaken, as is the case, so it is understood with Kimberly-Clark’s operations in the boreal forests of Canada.

We have now had the advice given to Chinese – and the same advice is being given to Japanese – diners to bring their own chopsticks when they go out to eat and still, it would appear, the demand for the disposable ones is increasing year by year. The message, thus, does not seem to have gotten through. Reinforcement may be required by way of legislation and a tax on disposable chopsticks.

And such a tax would also be good in the West for the same, as tons of disposable chopsticks are also used by those buying take-out Sushi, for instance, and Chinese meals. Also such a levy would also come in handy, maybe, to curb the use of disposable cups and cutlery in general.

The bring-your-own (BYO) principle is not difficult but it would appear that people are simply too lazy to do it all too often and the same also applies as regards to shopping bags.

When I grew up it was traditional for us to carry our own set of cutlery and then, as a military man that was again the way. So, still today, I carry, and the same for several other things, such as refillable water bottle. It can be done but needs forethought.

© 2013