Making Statements With a Chopstick Tree

January 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chances are you will see a pair of disposable wooden chopsticks on your table when you eat at a Chinese restaurant. A seemingly harmless item and part of the eating-out experience. Plus, it teaches you how to hold and use chopsticks correctly! Not many people give it a second thought as they dig into their General Tso Chicken.

Yet, if you think about how many disposable chopsticks are used on a daily basis and the amount of waste it generates, you might view those seemingly harmless chopsticks a little differently. The amount of waste generated by disposable wooden chopsticks is pretty mind-blowing. According to the China Environmental Protection Foundation, some 25 million trees are required to produce disposable chopsticks a year.

To raise awareness of this problem, the Chinese Environmental Protection Foundation turned to DDB/Ogilvy for suggestions. The group  collected 30,000 pairs of used disposable chopsticks and constructed a 5 meter high tree. After placing it in a busy part of Shanghai, they chopped down this tree to further drive the point home. A sign laid out the consumption statistics and warned: “Our trees are enough to feed us for only another 20 years.” Volunteers handed out reusable chopsticks to passers-by. (via Magical Urbanism)

Image: China Environmental Protection Foundation

There are many other similar campaigns carried out in China (check this site). I thought this project was well executed because it grabs your attention and gets the point across. Most people probably never gave disposable chopsticks much thought and I like to think that these campaigns might give people something think about while the walk away from the exhibit. Disposable utensils are an incredible waste of resources for a very minimal benefit. Making the switch to reusable isn’t hard, it just has to be a conscious decision.

Whether these campaigns can prompt people to change their habits is another question. The “bring your chopsticks” movement have been extremely successful in Taiwan. I have seen significant change in people’s habits in the past 5 years. All my friends and family members have gotten into the habit of bring their own reusable chopstick to restaurants and declining disposable ones when asked at take-outs. Many food courts and fast food restaurants have designated public ‘washing-up’ areas where you can wash your hands before you eat and wash your chopsticks after you finish.

I wonder how long it will take for people in other countries to get into the same mentality; sacrificing convenience and changing habits to save trees.  From his article titled Chopped Trees and Chopsticks, Justin Ward shared his thoughts on this topic:


…environmentalism has a certain chic. It is synonymous with being progressive, modern and conscientious. It is fashionable to drive one’s Smart car to the local café and discuss the imminent environmental apocalypse over a cup of organic fair-trade coffee. To the West, threats to the environment are like horror films. They are scary but distant, like images on a movie screen that can’t really hurt you.

It’s a pretty harsh statement and I don’t agree with all of it (ex:  singling out the West) but I think he made a good point in his last sentence. The media constantly warns us about global warming, deforestation, animal extinctions. But have these types of stories been reported so often that we have become desensitized? How often do we just quickly glance over it and dismiss those stories as a ‘scare tactic’ from tree-huggers? Do the changes we make in our daily life really make a difference?

I don’t have an answer for these questions. I also don’t want the world to experience an environmental apocalypse to realize we fucked up. I’m sure no one wants to get to that point.

I think about green habits (recycling, not buying bottled water, opting out plastic bags) the same way I view exercising and staying fit (loosly speaking of course).  We all know that if we don’t eat healthy and don’t exercise, we will one day find ourselves with all sorts of health problems like diabetes, high-blood pressure etc. Although we might be healthy and in good shape now, there is always a possibly of having a heart attack if we get lazy. You don’t see an immediate change in your body by exercising one or two days but on a long-term basis, I’m confident I will be healthier as a result. It’s kind of the same thing with not buying bottled water and bringing my own shopping bag. I can’t see the change I’m striving for but I like to think my little conscious changes can help the world in a small way. Plus, it’s just really not that big of a deal to not use plastic water bottles…it’s a lot easier than running anyways.

(what was suppose to be a short post turned into a long rant about environmental activism…)

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