Recycled Chopsticks May Solve Japan’s Waste Woes

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The new resin chopsticks manufactured by Sanshin KakoThe last time you went to a Japanese restaurant, did you use your chopsticks? Maybe, maybe not. But if they were on the table, they got thrown away after you’d paid your bill and walked out the door, and most likely you thought nothing of it.

In the U.S., disposable wooden chopsticks are not very common — except in the occasional restaurant serving some type of Asian cuisine — but in Japan, they throw away 68.5 million pairs of disposable, wooden chopsticks every day. That’s 25 billion pairs (and 100,000 tons of wood) literally up in smoke in Japanese incinerators every year.

But Sanshin Kako, a leading manufacturer of commercial tableware in the country, may have a solution. Using a new type of high performance resin called Valox iQ* 420 HP made by SABIC Innovative Plastics, they have started selling reusable plastic chopsticks sturdy enough to handle 1,000 trips across the table and through an automatic dishwasher. They even come in a variety of bright colors that, unlike lacquered or painted chopsticks, won’t peel off in the middle of a meal.

Even better, the chopsticks themselves are 87% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic. PET is most commonly used to made soda and water bottles and referred to as a #1 plastic. According to SABIC, their material also produces 50% fewer CO2 emissions than comparable thermoplastics currently on the market and is currently being used in appliance handles, spotlights, and electric motors as well.

The new chopsticks have met the requirements of both the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the European requirements for food contact applications. Sanshin Kako expects FDA approval in early 2009.

Photo Credit: SABIC Innovative Plastics

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