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[As Seen on The Straits Times] Meet the Company Turning Used Chopsticks into Eco-Friendly Furniture

[As Seen on The Straits Times] Meet the Company Turning Used Chopsticks into Eco-Friendly Furniture

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Disposable chopsticks may be convenient, but they come at a cost to the environment, contributing to deforestation, carbon emissions and waste build-up. One company, however, has come up with an innovative solution to tackle the problem — one chopstick at a time.

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In the office of The Work Boulevard, a co-working space nestled in the Central Business District, tables and wall panels are made of disposable chopsticks.

It is hard to imagine how chopsticks thrown away from a recent Chinese New Year lohei gathering can be transformed, but ChopValue Singapore does just that.

ChopValue Singapore, founded here in December 2021, upcycles discarded chopsticks into eco-friendly furniture and has partnered with notable names like Marina Bay Sands, Google and Lau Pa Sat.

The company, which got its start in Canada in 2016 by wood engineer Felix Böck, was brought to Singapore as a franchise partner by married couple Evelyn Hew and Justin Lee.


Husband-and-wife duo Justin Lee and Evelyn Hew with a bench ChopValue Singapore made for DUO, an integrated mixed-use development located in the Ophir-Rochor district.

Ms Hew, 38, has always wanted to contribute to a positive change in the environment after giving birth to the couple’s first child in 2013.

The Malaysian-born woman, who came to Singapore at the age of 18, envisioned a future for her newborn daughter and realised that her actions would play a part in her child’s quality of life.

To date, 584,208kg of carbon dioxide emissions – from over 12 million chopsticks – have been reduced just by the company’s eco-friendly business model in Singapore.


The feature wall inside The Work Boulevard office space in Anson Road is fitted with panels by ChopValue.


Small coasters made from wooden tiles by ChopValue being sold as souvenirs at Food Folks in Lau Pa Sat.

“The reason why ChopValue has some success is that the material is a simple and unpretentious way to show your commitment to sustainability. Everybody knows chopsticks, and it’s so easy to understand the circular economy when you see chopsticks living a second life,” says Mr Lee, 42, the company’s general manager.

The company’s effort towards sustainability does not end at just upcycling used chopsticks.

To further reduce carbon emissions, the company maintains that it is important to be hyperlocal, building a microfactory wherever it operates to minimise transportation.

Currently, it has 10 microfactories, from North America to South-east Asia. A Microfactory is defined as such on its carbon footprint, not its physical dimensions.


The ChopValue microfactory in Loyang.

In the case of ChopValue, heavy machinery is used only for sorting and pressing chopsticks into tiles. The subsequent processes are entirely done by hand, contributing to emission reduction.

“We don’t talk about this often, but the largest carbon footprint always comes from shipping, not the actual product,” says Mr Lee, a father of three.

 

MADE IN SINGAPORE

“For us, everything is in Singapore — our raw materials are from Singapore, our production is in Singapore, and our customers are from Singapore,” says Mr Lee.


ST VIDEO: AZMI ATHNI

The couple are no strangers to sustainability efforts.

Having previously founded Smartcity Solutions — a company that provides digital solutions to the waste management industry — they encountered the challenges of waste management in Singapore.

The couple did their research on the Internet and stumbled upon ChopValue. It took them a month after contacting ChopValue headquarters before they finally opened their Microfactory in Loyang.

ChopValue Singapore has a lean crew — seven production workers and seven administrative staff.


(From right) Mr Justin Lee speaking to his employees Zheng Liangqi and Zhen Huiwu at the ChopValue microfactory.

The process begins by harvesting the raw materials.

ChopValue partnered with Frasers Property malls, hawker centres in Yuhua, and Lau Pa Sat among many others to collect used chopsticks. Occasionally, it receives used chopsticks in the mail too.


A ChopValue recycling bin at a tray return station at Lau Pa Sat. Typically, the cleaners will dispose of used chopsticks into the bin before it gets collected.

The company’s driver, Mr Alagar Dhines Babu, 30, will then set out to collect the chopsticks.


Collection usually takes place every day except Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Mr Babu collecting a bag of chopsticks from Ramen Hitoyoshi restaurant at Our Tampines Hub.

Once everything is collected, Mr Babu returns to the microfactory to store the truckload of chopsticks there.

Each bag of chopsticks can weigh from a few grams to about 15kg.

The workers unpack the used chopsticks into a sorting machine, which will shake off unwanted leftovers.

Then they get soaked in a water-based resin. The resin-dipped chopsticks are subsequently placed in a heated dryer for sanitation. After the drying process, the workers hit the chopsticks with a mallet to break them up before weighing and stacking them neatly.

Then they are sent into a heated hydraulic press. The resin works as a binding agent and is activated when pressure and high heat are applied to the wooden tiles.

 

STRONGER TOGETHER

“Once pressed, it will have properties stronger than oak wood, harder than maple wood,” says Mr Lee.


ST VIDEO: AZMI ATHNI

The material is then cut into various shapes and forms to be converted into products such as the menu cubes at Marina Bay Sands and coaster sets.


Carpenter Zheng Liangqi cutting a freshly pressed tile with a table saw.
Next, the tiles are stacked in neat piles at the Loyang microfactory.

“It’s a versatile building material,” says Ms Hew.

 
Mr Justin Lee inspecting an end product as Mr Zheng Liangqi finishes the surface with lacquer.

Both Mr Lee and Ms Hew believe that to recycle is to buy recycled products. Mr Lee credits the Government’s efforts to promote sustainability for ChopValue's business gaining traction since 2021.

 

A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

“The political will for sustainability in Singapore is strong, and that is why companies are following suit,” he says.


ST VIDEO: AZMI ATHNI

As the old Chinese proverb goes: “One chopstick is easily broken, while a bundle is not.”

 

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