Chopstick FAQ

1. How long have chopsticks been around?

Chopsticks have been used for over 5000 years and are an important part of many Asian cultures. They also signify sustenance, history, the sacred (special ones are used in religious ceremonies) and the mundane. Not all Asian cultures use chopsticks. For many Asian Americans, they represent the strengths of our ancestors and our cultural inheritance.

The distinction, of course, should be made between reusable/washable chopsticks and the throw-away kind. Waribashi, disposable chopsticks, pose a great problem to our environment through deforestation and destruction of forest habitats. Every year, throughout the world, hundreds of billions of disposable chopsticks are thrown away after a single-use.

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2. How can I participate in donating disposable chopsticks to The Waribashi Project?

If you are a business/restaurant in San Francisco Japantown, we would love your chopsticks. Simply collect the used disposable chopsticks from your customers after they eat. Shake off large bits of food that might be stuck on them and put them in the small green bin that we provide. We will collect your chopsticks several times a week. Later you will be asked to put your used chopsticks in large green bins (look for Waribashi Project signs) near the Japantown Merchants Association office in the Japantown Garage. The Project will wash the waribashi for reuse in sculpture.

If you have chopsticks in your kitchen drawers that you have to get rid of, you can drop them off at the JCCCNC, 1840 Sutter Street in San Francisco. Map.

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3. What alternatives are there to using disposable chopsticks?

The Waribashi Project doesn't have all the answers but here are a few suggestions:

  • Carry your own chopsticks. There are very beautiful washable pairs available - in wood, plastic, stainless, steel, and bamboo. Chopstick cases to carry them in also come in many different washable materials - fabric, silk, bamboo, plastic, and wood. I found a great Hello Kitty set that has chopsticks and a spoon and fork so I won't have to use plastic disposable utensils either. And plastic doesn't biodegrade. And of course, its a new habit to get into when going out to eat. Give it a try.

  • If you have to use them, think about ways you can make the material last outside the landfill. I've used old waribashi to apply glue to my art projects. They are the perfect size to emulate a 2x4 in modelmaking. I've used them to stir small containers of paint. They are good for holding small plants up in the garden. If you have a lot of them, bring them to creative reuse places like East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse or S.C.R.A.P. and maybe someone else can think of a use for them.

Can you think of more ideas? Send your suggestions to dozawa@sbcglobal.net.

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4. Where can I find out more about disposable chopsticks and its impact on the environment?

Here are some highlighted articles:

Information on Japanese names for chopsticks http://www.echopsticks.org/japanese-chopsticks.html

History of Chopsticks from a Japanese website http://japanweb.aboho.com/hashi.htm

The Waribashi Conundrum http://www.japanvisitor.com/jc/waribashi.html

Japanese Environmentalist talk about waribashi http://www.geocities.com/green_in_japan/issues/waribashi.html

1994 Mother Jones article

http://www.motherjones.com/news/outfront/1994/09/karliner.html

China and Burmese forests http://forests.org/archive/asia/chgloeco.htm

Changes in Cambodian forest policy/ China will consume its forests in a decade with chopstick production http://www.ngoforum.org.kh/Environment/Docs/Updated_Information_on_the_Environment.htm

Malaysian Rainforest Destruction http://forests.org/cgi-bin/texis.exe/webinator/search/?order=r&query=chopsticks&submit=Go&pr=archive

Japan and chopsticks http://www.american.edu/projects/mandala/TED/chopstik.htm

Elepants slaughtered for ivory chopsticks in Sudan http://forests.org/articles/reader.asp?linkid=40058

Junk mail in the US (US consumption of paper) http://temp.sfgov.org/sfenvironment/facts/junk_mail.htm

Clearcutting Canada for chopsticks http://www.american.edu/projectsmandala/TED/canchop.htm

Shaanxi, China ban of disposable chopsticks http://forests.org/archive/asia/shbanson.htm

Accelerating Demand for Land Wood, and Paper Pushing World's Forests to the Brink http://www.worldwatch.org/press/news/1998/04/04/

85% waste of aspens used for chopstick production http://forests.org/archive/asia/canadmit.htm

Tress cut down for chopsticks http://www.21stcentury.com.cn/newspaper/content/20010215/200102151.htm

Many articles found of forests.org

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5. What other wood products are single-use like waribashi/disposable chopsticks?

Other wood products that have few or single-use lives:
  • popsicle sticks
  • ice cream spoons
  • coffee stirers
  • wooden pallets
  • tongue depressors
  • junk mail
  • single use paper products (some of these could be made from other materials that are better suited or superior to wood like hemp)

Can you name more? Send your additions to this list to Donna

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Copyright 2005 Donna Keiko Ozawa 10/12/2005