What is more ecologically sound, wood or plastic chopsticks?

The Missus and I ate at a Chinese restaurant yesterday, where we were provided plastic chopsticks. Personally, I hate the things, much preferring the wooden ones. Then the guilts hit me: every time I’ve enjoyed that supple woody feel of (disposable) wooden chopsticks, I’ve been contributing to our disposable society, clogging up landfills, destroying forests, and otherwise causing the end of the world.

But then, rationalization came to my rescue. Plastic chopsticks are made from petroleum, the manufacturing process is more energy intensive than the production of the simple wooden ones, and the washing of the plastic chopsticks uses more energy and releases phosphates into the watershed, and wooden chopsticks are biodegradeable, while the plastic ones are not.

So which is right, my guilts or my rationalization? Taking into account the issues, which is more ecologically sound?


Mother Jones(a greenish magazine) has an article about wooden chopsticks.


My guess is, looking at total lifetime impact of making, traqnsporting, and packaging N disposable sticks, versus the same for one pair of reused plastic ones, is that the plastic ones come off cheaper overall, even if the plastic sticks represent a larger initial investment of energy and material.

Just don’t use irreplaceable jade ones, like my friend did. They broke right there in the restaurant. I don’t know what my friend was thinking.

I know you didn’t ask, but you can get reusable wooden chopsticks too. Lacquered ones are almost as slippery as plastic ones (I suspect that’s why you don’t like plastic?) but the bare bamboo ones are easier to use.

I’m pretty sure that deforestation as a result of chopstick manufacture is actually a pretty serious environmental issue, so I’m guessing the plastic ones by a long shot

Something smells fishy about that article.

Canadian government foresters don’t have to be “outraged”. They can, and will, slap fines on companies that waste trees in this way. One of the tasks of a government forester is to inspect logging operations for just this type of behaviour. It is illegal to cut trees and not utilize them. Mistakes happen, but no logging company would intentionally do this on a large scale, since it would cost them an enormous amount of money in fines.

Pepper Mill and I re-use our wooden chopsticks. Washed after use, they last a long time.
I don’t see the “disposable” chopsticks as a problem (even though I heard about a Japanese movement about it a while backl). Nobody talks about going to plastic toothpicks to ease the problem of wooden toothpick overuse. Or matchsticks, for that matter. Look at all the wood wasted on wooden platens for cargo handling (which in some cases can’t be re-used. There are laws and practices in some cases mandating new ones). How many chopsticks could you make from one of those?

And chopsticks are simply wood – they’ll decompose and recycle faster than paper.

Reminds me of a story I read in (I think) Reader’s Digest several months back. A friend of the writer was boasting about how she had her own set of chopsticks that she always took with her to Chinese/Japanese restaurants so that she wouldn’t be responsible for the environmental waste of using the wooden ones and throwning them away.

As she was explaining this to the waitress one day, the waitress said, “Very nice chopstics…ivory.”

I can’t stand plastic chopsticks. Too slippery for me. Wood is a renewable resource, so it’s disposable chopsticks for me!

What about bamboo chopsticks? Bamboo is a grass, and as renewable as it gets.

You can also buy metal chopsticks. They are ribbed to give you grip, can go straight in with the dishes in the dishwasher, and I figure they will last the rest of my life.

Every Asian restaraunt I’ve ever eaten at has had disposable bamboo chopsticks, and with as fast as bamboo grows (one segment is one day’s growth), I don’t think there really can be any risk of bamboo deforestation. Wouldn’t that be the best possibility?

True, and I wondered about it as well. I re-read the article to see if it mentioned the logging taking place in Canada and all can think of is that CCMC is the Canadian branch of Mitsubishi. I’m not sure how much of the logging is taking place in Canada versus worldwide. I do know that Japan has started a couple of programs to cut back, as have many Chinese resturants.

Shaanxi Province in northwest China has banned the production, selling and use of one-off wood chopsticks, starting last Friday, to protect local forest resources.

45,000,000,000 / 25,000,000 = 1,800 pairs per tree. A pair of disposable chopsticks probably weighs ~2 ounces. 2 X 1,800 oz = 3,600 oz worth of wood used from each tree. 3,600 oz / 16 = 225 lb from each tree. Even small trees weigh well over 225 lb.

This page at the US Forest Service has the “mercantilable” weight of “average size of a tree grown on private or public lands for harvest as timber” as 1,660 lb.

Obviously this is all back-of-the-envelope stuff, but it appears that if the remainder of the tree is not used for something else(paper pulp perhaps) then logging for chopsticks is extremely wasteful. Even tripling the only guestimated number(weight of a pair of disposable chopsticks as 2 oz, which tripled would be six ounces) would only bring us to using about a third of the mercantilable wood of an average tree. And I have never seen a pair of disposible chopsticks which weighs as much as a small sirloin steak.


Is this the same question as “paper or plastic?” when it comes to grocery bags? And what’s the answer to that question?