UBC student turns thousands of chopsticks into table tops

As many as 100,000 chopsticks are thrown out in Metro Vancouver every day, and one student from UBC's faculty of forestry is putting them to good use.

Felix Böck collects chopsticks from over a dozen restaurants in Vancouver, and turns them into home decor

There's an estimated five tons of chopsticks consumed in Metro Vancouver each day, and UBC's Felix Böck has turned them into living room decor. (UBC)

A UBC student is turning thousands of wasted chopsticks from Vancouver restaurants into home decor — and he is just getting started.

Felix Böck, a PhD student in the Faculty of Forestry, estimates that up to five tons of chopsticks are being tossed in the trash each day in Metro Vancouver.

He began collecting them from different restaurants and has since managed to transform them into coasters, shelves and tabletops.

He's now launched his own decor startup called ChopValue — and he's collecting sticks from restaurants in Kitslano, inlcuding B.C. Sushi, Kits Sushi and Broadway Sushi.

"We collect 100,000 [chopsticks] per week — only in one neighbourhood," said Böck.

"This tells me that my [initial] calculations were conservative. There's much more material available than I thought."

Felix Böck's startup ChopValue converts thousands of chopsticks from restaurants in Vancouver into coasters, shelves and tabletops. (UBC)

Each restaurant discards their used chopsticks into a separate recycling bin provided by ChopValue. The material is then taken back to a shop on UBC campus, where they are cleaned, coated in resin, and then pressed into a tile. The tiles can then be sawed or pressed together to create new items.

"The production is totally based on the length of a chopstick," said Böck.

 "In the beginning I didn't expect we could make table tops, but it works great."


Böck moved to Vancouver from Germany to complete his PhD in forestry. His doctoral research focuses on structural bamboo products. But when he started, there was one major issue: he couldn't find a local bamboo supplier.

Meanwhile, he had regularly been eating with chopsticks which are generally made from bamboo. He never put two and two together  until his girlfriend gave him the idea.

The chopsticks are pressed into a tile, which can then be sawed or pressed into other materials. (UBC)

"She had a drawer filled with disposable chopsticks, and she pretty much opened the drawer and looked at me and said 'Felix, do something with this,'" he said.

"I finally found the chance to connect my research to Vancouver," he said.

He began looking up import statistics for chopsticks, and found that there could be as many as 100,000 sticks consumed daily in Metro Vancouver.

Starting up

Böck began sourcing chopsticks from a couple restaurants in the city.

"It worked twice, and then [the restaurants] lost motivation," he said.

"I realized if I want to do this, and if I'm serious about it, I need professional representation."

Böck had a website built, started investing in recycling bins made of cardboard with the ChopValue logo stamped on, and brought in some extra hands.

The end products range from coasters, to shelving, to table tops.

"We went with our T-shirts, looking very professional, to 20 restaurants," he said, adding that a big part of the pitch was to promote an environmentally-friendly image for each business, and highlight savings on waste disposal.

"Fifteen restaurants signed up on the spot."

Böck now has a steady stream of material coming in. The contributors can even buy back the finished products at a discounted price.

He's hoping to bring in more chopsticks from across the city, and wants to begin repurposing other material. He's currently working on securing wood from Vancouver's housing market, where he's noticed a lot of wasted material from demolitions and construction.

"ChopValue is a platform to tell a story, to open the eyes of others to say 'Hey, we can do the same with skewers or coffee cups,'" he said.

 "It's not about just the recycling, it's about what's after recycling. I think you can create many value-added products with materials that are currently under-utilized or thrown away,"

"It's going to be a business that's very scalable. I think this is only the beginning."