Is it art or is it garbage: You decide

At Vancouver’s annual Interior Design Show, UBC PhD student Felix Böck stood in front of a slab of 100,000 chopsticks, which collectively weighs 450 kilograms. Shockingly, this is a conservative estimate for how many chopsticks the Vancouver metro area discards daily.

But a bright future awaits the rather dystopian display of human waste thanks to Böck’s innovative chopstick recycling company, ChopValue.  

“I think we have the responsibility to redefine the phrase ‘waste’ to ‘a new resource,’” said Böck of ChopValue’s ultimate goal.

On the other side of the chopstick slab, ChopValue’s first line of bamboo products were ready to launch. Sleek hexagonal shelves were aligned together with tiles in a beehive-like pattern, alongside a stack of pragmatic square coasters.

ChopValue’s raw product is a composite material made by pressing discarded, whole chopsticks together under high pressure along with a water-based resin.

“At the beginning, I really processed the chopsticks into fibers and pressed them into panels,” said Böck, but he had a feeling that the initial prototype was too smooth and perfect for a consumer to truly see that they were getting a chopstick based product. Now, the chopsticks lend a uniquely pleasing vertical grain to the composite material.

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Courtesy UBC Public Affairs

When asked about the inspiration behind ChopValue, Böck spoke of his first dinners as a student in Vancouver, which — as we all know — can involve a lot of sushi.

“I’m a cabinet maker and carpenter by trade, and I went to school to study wood engineering,” said Böck. “My expertise is bamboo. I’ve found this little niche that tries to transform bamboo from this trendy material into a more sustainable building material. Looking at the chopsticks I was holding in my hands, I thought, ‘why bring a research material to Vancouver if I have it in front of me?’”

So far, ChopValue has piloted chopstick collection from locations in Kitsilano. A map of participating businesses can be found on the ChopValue website. Böck and his colleagues found that restaurants were eager to recycle their used chopsticks if ChopValue provided them specific recycle bins and certificates to show the decrease in businesses’ carbon footprints after joining the recycling program.

The company also collects beyond restaurants via collaborations with other green companies such as ChopSwap. ChopSwap encourages Vancouver residents to bring their disposable chopsticks to one of their depots, where they can then receive a reusable pair. ChopSwap now donates the disposable chopsticks they receive to ChopValue. It’s a trustworthy, local trade that benefits the companies and our community.

The 450-kilogram chopstick slab was an impressive sight indeed at the Interior Design Show, but perhaps more inspiring was the excitement on the faces of those who learned that their own discarded utensils could become a source of ChopValue’s bamboo. Böck invited the UBC community specifically to join his endeavors.

“ChopValue is interested in receiving not only feedback, but also applicants for co-op terms and internships from all over the faculties. I don’t want to restrict people [by] what they are studying!”