ChopValue, gets the circular economy working like a charm

Posted on 20 April 2021.

Every day millions of people use wooden chopsticks when they eat. To keep them out of the trash, startup ChopValue turns them into beautiful, functional and sustainable objects.

In the space of five years, more than 33 million chopsticks have been recycled.

The story appears on TheGuardian.com, which devoted an article to ChopValue in January 2021. "How," Felix Böck wondered one day while eating in a sushi restaurant, "do you convince people that there is no such thing as waste, just wasted resources?"

At the time, the young man, who lives in Vancouver, Canada, was frustrated by the lack of interest from industry in his idea to reuse wood from construction and demolition sites. His girlfriend suggested he "start small": so why not with the wooden chopsticks he was holding in his hand?

Felix Böck took her at face value and the very next day started working on the idea, sketching out what was to become ChopValue, a start-up with the goal of giving used chopsticks a second life.

"I realized that in order to prove sustainable business concepts based on sourcing underutilized resources, it was important to demonstrate their viability," he says. “I needed to develop a process to create innovative, high value-added and attractive products from a real resource."

Five years later, ChopValue has recycled more than 33 million chopsticks!

 

600 chopsticks make a game box

ChopValue collects the chopsticks - most of which are made of bamboo - from partner restaurants and other locations, such as shopping malls and airports, where special containers are placed. The company calls this "urban collection".

Pacific Poke, a restaurant chain in Western Canada, was among the first companies to work with ChopValue. Artwork and table tops made from chopsticks once used in its restaurants are now proudly displayed there.

Not much is known about the process, except that it turns large quantities of chopsticks into wooden tiles, which are then used to create wall coverings, furniture, utensils, games or decorative items.

Practically speaking, a box of dominoes recycles 300 pairs of chopsticks, a cutting board about 900, and a desk about 9,600.

 

A network of micro-factories

ChopValue is now looking to expand in North America by forging new partnerships with restaurants and stores willing to sell its minimalist design products, but also by creating a network of franchises.

This is the originality of the startup's business model: mass produce but on a local scale thanks to micro-factories ranging from 1,500 to 2,500 m2, capable of producing 10,000 tiles per month in "lean" mode (meaning with no waste) by sourcing from local restaurants and hiring people from the local community. There are now three – in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal.