Two UK newspapers – and subsequently many other media sources – recently reported that China was urging its populace to abandon the use of chopsticks in favor of knives and forks – for environmental reasons.

The Daily Mail wrote, “Residents of the largest country on the planet are believed to use an astonishing 80 billion pairs of disposable wooden chopsticks every year.” While the Telegraph claimed that, “China has admitted its forests can no longer provide enough cutlery for its dinner tables.”

Different kinds of chopsticks, pic: FiveRings (Wikimedia Commons)

These are worrying numbers indeed. Both outlets were quoting Bo Guangxin, chairman of Jilin Forestry Industry Group, in his address to fellow delegates at the recent National People’s Congress. But headlines like the Mail’s, “Chinese told they must swap chopsticks for knives and forks to stop destroying forests” and the Telegraph’s “Chinese ‘must swap chopsticks for knife and fork’” simply don’t make sense if one just thinks for a minute. It would be tantamount to UK PM David Cameron saying, “Britons must abandon plastic knives and forks in favor of metal chopsticks”. If too many trees are being cut down for disposable chopsticks, replace them with reusable ones, which is pretty much what Bo said, at least according to Chinese media like Shanghai Daily:

We must change our consumption habits and encourage people to carry their own tableware.

– Bo Guangxin

Like with the plastic bags, all people have to do is revert to previous habits. You couldn’t get a plastic bag in the UK when I visited as a kid with my family. Likewise, when I was an infant we lived in Japan for two years. Each member of my family had their own pair of reusable chopsticks with a handy carry case. Mine were plastic, but my parents had several pairs of (I think) wooden sticks with some kind of resin finish. Actually I don’t know what those chopsticks are made of, but that was the early 1970s and I can tell you they still look great after years of use.

Anyway, what’s worse: needlessly cutting down 1.3 million cubic meters of timber every year for chopsticks or filling the oceans with non-biodegradable, poison-absorbing plastic forks from McDonald’s? Both suck and both are unnecessary. But they are convenient, aren’t they? Thanks, global capitalism, for making environmental destruction so much easier.

What’s more, cheap chopsticks might even be poison.

From China Daily:

Sulphur, hydrogen peroxide, sodium sulfite and mold inhibitor, are chemical substances commonly used to make disposable chopsticks, even though they are not allowed.

–Dong Jinshi, secretary-general of the International Food Packaging Association

Yeesh. Well, I suggest China take the lead in inventing and marketing “cool” reusable chopsticks with nifty carrying cases. It’s better for the environment and better for human health. If those products catch on – and I don’t see why they wouldn’t – it could make up for the millions they’d lose in disposable chopstick sales. But those sales won’t last that long anyway, once the forests are all gone.

Disposable chopsticks, pic: i_yudai (Wikimedia Commons)