There’s more to the history of the chopstick than you think. From cooking to eating, ivory, to silver, and now — wood to bamboo, the ultimate goal is sustainability.
By: Ashley Insong
It can take twenty years for a birch tree to reach its full growth and just three years for bamboo to do the same. Birch trees can grow anywhere from thirteen inches to twenty-four inches a year, while certain species of bamboo can grow up to thirty-six inches within twenty-four hours.
Every year, China uses about 45 billion pairs of throwaway utensils, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, equals about 130 million chopsticks a day. Also, Greenpeace China explains that this means 100 acres of trees need to be felled every hour to meet this demand. To intensify the urgency of this issue, most of the cut-down trees used to produce chopsticks are of birch or poplar varieties. In other words, they take forever to grow back.
Believe it or not, chopsticks were not always made out of wood and were not always used for eating. Now a common and essential dining utensil found in many restaurants, and not just those that serve Asian cuisine, the chopstick went through much more transformation than you think.
Originating in China, the antiquity of the chopstick goes back to at least 1200 B.C. The Smithsonian Magazine explains that the first set of chopsticks ever discovered were made of bronze and found in ancient tombs within the prehistoric site ruins of Yin, located in the Henan province of China. Originally, people used chopsticks for cooking rather than eating. After some time, people began to realize that they could conserve fuel by cutting their food into smaller pieces so that food would cook faster, thus creating chopsticks as utensils to eat smaller portions of food.
Although at one point in time, those of higher classes in society had access to chopsticks made out of more valuable and hard-to-get materials such as ivory, jade, coral, brass, agate, and silver, the Japanese were the first to make chopsticks out of bamboo and wood. Easy-access to wood made it effortless to throw chopsticks away after use, and the never-ending cutting down of long-established trees to gather wood contributed to a crucial environmental issue we are still facing today — deforestation.
Deforestation is negatively impacting landscapes and ecosystems all around the world. It is one of China's most pressing environmental issues that also play a role in soil erosion, famine, flooding, carbon dioxide release, desertification, and species extinction. With chopsticks being a major contributing factor to deforestation, moving away from cutting down trees that will take decades to regenerate is vital.
That said, eco-friendly businesses committed to leaving behind a greener environment for future generations are working towards sustainability. For example, Cropsticks by Cropmade is a chopstick company whose focus is to produce eco-friendly products for restaurants and retailers. Their chopsticks are made out of 100% bamboo and even offer bamboo straws — a smart alternative to plastic and paper straws. To add on, Cropsticks believes in full-circle sustainability by upcycling as many chopsticks as possible into beautiful home decor and furniture with ChopValue. You can browse through Cropsticks selection of products on the “shop” section of their website.
The evolution of chopsticks over the centuries is proof of society's innovation and technological advancement. Through vigorous research and an inspiration to create change by discovering eco-friendly solutions, we can work together to build a healthier planet. Small changes can make a huge impact — don’t you think?