June 19, 2020
When I first heard about ChopValue, a circular economy furniture and design company that used the humble chopstick as sustainable and reusable resource, I couldn’t help but think it was a gimmick. But the more I dived into this fascinating company and its journey, the more convinced I became that it was a singularly innovative and scalable idea that could inspire fresh ways for us to think about the resources we have in our urban environment. I caught up with Founder Felix Bock to find out more about this fascinating idea.
Afdhel Aziz: Felix, welcome. Please tell us a little bit about ChopValue and how you first came up with the idea?
Felix Bock: I have a background in wood engineering from Germany and was pursuing a PhD in structural bamboo composites in Vancouver, where I quickly developed a sushi addiction. I had an eye-opening moment when I connected the chopsticks I ate dinner with to the vast amount of under-utilized wood resources from demolished construction sites. I had been trying to implement a regional program to tackle urban wood waste, but it fell on deaf ears – so I thought the humble little chopstick was a more relatable resource to show how you can build viable business opportunities from resource efficiency. ChopValue was founded in 2016 to prove just that.
Aziz: Please give us some idea of scale - how many chopsticks do you guys collect in a city and how does it translate into products?
Bock: To date we’ve recycled close to 30 million chopsticks from restaurants, businesses and malls that otherwise would have ended up in the landfill. Simply put, around 350,000 chopsticks go through our local micro-factory process each week, in each city where we are located. We then innovate this resource that others may see as waste through processing, manufacturing, and design. We don’t just call it recycling, we think of it as a climate positive transformation (given the carbon captured in the process) into a newly engineered material, which we use to make our products.
Aziz: Fascinating.What are some of the customers and companies you work with?
Bock: We work with brands and end customers who care about transparency and traceability for all products they source. That’s where we feel we lead by example and set new standards of what it means to produce local - wherever you are. For example, we have worked with restaurants and businesses who recycle their chopsticks with us to redesign their interior. We also do other projects and products ranging from store displays and tabletops for our B2B clients, as well as sustainable home decor and work-from-home solutions for our B2C customers.
Aziz: Do you feel like you’ve developed a new ‘circular economy’ business model for urban environments?
Bock: To be honest, circular economy is a term I only really started understanding after I founded ChopValue. To me, being resource efficient with the use of our natural resources was always the goal in my career. But as our concept has grown, we have indeed created a circular economy concept that adds value to already existing resources in our cities without having to use any virgin materials from our natural forests. I like to think that we don’t just add value to resources, as our franchise concept also allows franchisees and local professionals working in the trades to benefit and have impact in their community.
Aziz: What are the cities you’re targeting for expansion and how can people work with you?
Bock: As local manufacturing and the de-globalization of supply chains has been brought back to the forefront throughout the Covid19 pandemic, we see this concept thriving and operating anywhere local manufacturers understand the potential of their own urban under-utilized resources. We are first targeting all major metropolitan areas in North America to build a cluster of distributed micro-factories that we will collaborate with to distribute resources, sales and success. From New York City to Los Angeles, from Sand Francisco to Miami - we are excited to find the right development partners to work with.