Tipping the First Domino: The Challenge of Sustainable Chopsticks.

Photo from Greenpeace China.

Here at The Starfish, we’re all about making a difference. That’s why we’re happy to dissect the unsustainable market of disposable chopsticks in Vancouver, British Columbia, and to showcase a group of graduate students that were motivated to change it.

The business of sushi is a large one, especially on Canada’s west coast. Although the market itself has many different controversies in itself, the amount of disposable chopsticks used to consume these delicious delicacies is alarming. The LA Times has reported an estimated 100 acres of forests that are harvested every 24 hours in order to meet demands for chopsticks. That’s equivalent to 16-25 million mature trees (and that’s just in China alone – imagine how much wood is used for disposable chopsticks globally!). This has clear effects on forest ecosystems, soil quality and erosion in the area, and the ability to combat climate change, amongst other negative environmental effects.

Luckily, the issue is gaining traction globally. China has recently placed a tax on manufacturing disposable chopsticks. Also, as seen above, artists have created displays made entirely of chopsticks, to show just how many chopsticks are used and thrown out (82,000 chopsticks were used in the chopstick forest seen above).

Canada’s west coast isn’t far removed from the issue, which brought graduate students from Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management (REM) onto the scene. After researching the issue, they saw an opportunity in sushi restaurants on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, and saw the chance to ‘tip the first domino’. 

“It’s an invitation to re-think all of our needless use of resources/energy in daily practices,” REM student Larissa Ardis said. 

With this, Ardis and colleagues went to dine on Commercial Drive. Out of twelve restaurants, only two (Isshin Sushi and Kishimoto Sushi) were already offering reusable chopsticks to their dine-in customers. 

As Ardis reported, convincing sushi restaurants to make the change was rather tough. “We heard from restaurant owners that there really was no cost advantage in using disposables. That's why we feel this issue is really low-hanging fruit that the environmental movement here hasn't even looked at yet.”

After showing the other restaurants a public petition showing support for the idea, two more restaurants said they would like more information on the topic and would consider the switch. One restaurant (Wakaba Sushi, located in II Mercato Mall) signed a pledge, and now offers reusable chopsticks for dine-in customers! 

For Ardis and team, the chopstick challenge was a great success. “The fact that three restaurants out of the twelve we visited already get it, and that more were really receptive to more information, is very encouraging.”

It was only a few years ago when disposables were the norm. With initiatives like these, groups can make a difference in their communities and do their small (but significant) part for our planet.

Wakaba Sushi taking the pledge for reusable chopsticks. Photo from Larissa Ardis.