Sustainability

This Cutting Board Is Made From Single-Use Utensils

Ever wonder what happened to all those chopsticks?

April 21, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

In one corner of my cutlery drawer sits an unlikely candidate: my guilt. It sits atop a bunch of forks and spoons, paper napkins, and chopsticks—my cumulative takeout "extras." For years I have tried to address this via the number of times we order in (which is at odds with wanting to support our local restaurants), what we order, and repeatedly writing “NO CUTLERY AND NAPKINS, PLEASE!!!” in the special requests section. Yet... the single-use cutlery keeps finding its way in.

Each year, after just one use, millions of units of restaurant cutlery are thrown out, and end up in landfills and in our waterways. Plastic cups, plates, utensils, and straws are obviously a big source of pollution (a smart and successful campaign made straws the villain of the piece), but as I’ve learned, wooden (bamboo and others) chopsticks are culpable, too. The common assumption that chopsticks are produced with scrap wood products just isn’t true: millions of trees are logged each year to make chopsticks that are shipped around the world, used once, and discarded. And because they’re treated with chemicals, and soiled after use, they often can’t be recycled.

So when I heard about a company that repurposes used chopsticks into cutting boards, i.e. diverting them from landfills, my heart did a double beat. Founder Felix Böck started ChopValue four years ago with the idea of creating a viable business model around neglected resources. His original idea was upcycling construction waste, but used chopsticks, as he discovered, were a more relatable (and manageable!) resource. Böck began by convincing restaurant owners in Vancouver to set up recycling bins exclusively for chopsticks; today, hundreds of restaurants across North America have signed on. ChopValue has recycled over 33 million chopsticks to date, transforming (but not before thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting!) them into furniture, home decor products, and yes, cutting boards. (Watch how they do it here.)

One of those cutting boards, a medium end-grain board, arrived at my doorstep last week—and if first impressions matter, I was hooked. When compressed, the stacked chopsticks form a beautiful honeycomb-like pattern that's further enhanced by the variation in wood color of each chopstick. The board also has substantial heft, on account of its thick edge, and comes with the teeniest silicone feet that don’t interfere with its looks, but do add practicality.

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Top Comment:
“What are they using for glue? There's going to be a lot of it.”
— Smaug
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Of course, a great wooden cutting board will last years, while also extending the lifetime of your knife blades. End-grain boards, like this one, are known to be more long-lasting than their long-grain counterparts (fewer scratches and less splitting)—ChopValue makes both kinds. I did notice, as I put it to use, that it felt a little harder (and sounded louder) on the knife than my other bamboo boards. But don’t confuse this with it being harsh on the blade: According to Böck, it’s because their engineered material is compressed bamboo, making it “much denser but also more durable and better on your knives.”

It will be interesting to see how the board stands up to my less-than-refined knife skills and frequent chopping (lots of veg prep in this kitchen!), but the medium-sized board is also a good candidate for serving. And just like all wooden cutting boards, this one will need TLC to thrive: a thorough drying after wash, a regular massage of mineral oil, etc. Admittedly, I fall short in this department, despite having helpful resources right at hand.

But the best part for me, hands down, are the 886 waste chopsticks that went into making it. I’ve certainly used my fair share of throwaway chopsticks over the years, and while I’ve started carrying a foldable spoon and silicone straw in my bag, my traveling utensil kit could probably use the addition of a pair of washable chopsticks. And on days when I forget them at home—because there will be those—I’ll feel better knowing that my used chopsticks might find their way to someone’s cutting board.

What's a product you love that's made from recycled waste? Tell us in the comments.


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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.

5 Comments

Smaug April 21, 2021
What are they using for glue? There's going to be a lot of it.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. April 21, 2021
Hiya Smaug! Good question. The chopsticks are bound together by a water-based acrylic resin that’s a non-toxic and environmentally-friendly alternative to many of the resins used in the industry, so it can safely be VOC-, urea-, and formaldehyde-free.
 
Smaug April 21, 2021
Probably OK- there's some danger of certain molds growing on acrylics, but nothing very dangerous. It's worth noting, however, that acrylics can be completely destroyed by a surprisingly small amount of contact with alcohol; I've completely destroyed 1/8" thick acrylic simply by washing it with rubbing alcohol.
 
Moo April 21, 2021
Porous eating utensils are compressed into something I'm expected to use to prepare food for my family on? Basically got 8000 strangers licking my cutting board.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. April 21, 2021
I hear you on your concerns, Moo, but the chopsticks here are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected during a long (6-hour!) production process that sterilizes and removes any trails of contamination or bacteria.