Japan gets through around 130 million pairs of waribashi everyday (about 11,000 million pairs a year). Waribashi are manufactured from tropical hardwood of which Japan is the world's number one importer. Waribashi are, apparently, outlawed in South Korea in favour of stainless steel alternatives and now there is a growing movement against them in China. Waribashi are disposable chopsticks.

Hardwood comes mostly from rainforest and every year an area the size of Great Britain is deforested world wide. South-East Asian countries such as Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia export huge amounts of their indigenous forests to Japan and now suffer from soil erosion making land unsuitable for agriculture. Whilst not all of this wood is used to make waribashi (some is used in construction and a portion goes toward paper manufacturing), plenty of it is, and it's fairly alarming.
Generally Japan has the best recycling programme I'm aware of. I have to sort all of my rubbish out into glass, PET, other plastics, paper and so on. But there is no provision for wood, and specifically for chopsticks. And they are re-usable: just 6 waribashi would make a good quality piece of writing paper.

But let's not continually knock Japan. Many of Japan's waribashi are made in and exported from the United States and often from wood sourced from native and Canadian forests. For a product that is used for essentially a matter of minutes.

The problem is not that Japan (and China, and Taiwan) use waribashi, it's that they designate rare, tropical hardwood as the material of choice. An online Trade and Environment Database has this to say:

The point of contention in this case is that the products for which Japan is using the wood for are questionable uses for the wood. Surely there are substitutable resources that Japan could use to make chopsticks and concrete forms instead of using the almost irreplaceable trees.

Or recycle them at the very least. In fact, that's what led me to write this entry. I'm not trying to Japan bash - this environmental problem is just one of many throughout the world - but I live in Japan, and it's an issue I thought about earlier whilst using my third pair of waribashi today. I wondered if there was a provision for recycling them I wasn't aware of. There isn't, certainly not of any significance at least.

Although it's good to see that these kids started the revolution a little while back.


Blogger Indri reckons...

I'm told that there are people in China who carry their own chopsticks around with them, although I don't remember seeing that while I was there. Keep meaning to do that myself. It's possible to buy all sorts of chopsticks here in SF. Beautiful ones, silly ones, lacquered, striped, holographic, emblazoned with seafood, waves, Hello Kitty. I have a pair covered in little black and white maneki nekko, lucky cats, black against illness and white for general well-being.

I'm surprised the Japanese don't use bamboo for their disposables. That stuff grows like, well, the weed it is.

I do like the way you have to carry around your own hand towel, though, because there don't seem to be any paper towels in the public restrooms. I bought a grey one with the cat-bus from Totoro in a little town outside Kyoto, and it hangs in my bathroom still. Much neater and more orderly than wastebaskets full of paper.

6:32 午後 JST  
Blogger pik reckons...

Indri - regarding hand towels ~ have come a cropper several times and have just as often resolved to purchase one, but failed. Rcently saw a nice yellow one, also in Kyoto, but devoid of any Totoro isignia. My favourite Ghibli movie too. Jealous. Guard it well. All together now 'Totoro, totoro... totoro, totoro' Gotta love Miyazaki.

11:07 午後 JST  


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