From dinner plates to showrooms, ChopValue is giving chopsticks a second life. Established in 2016, the woodworking trailblazer has built a Canada-wide business by repurposing used chopsticks into a range of sustainable home products. We chatted with Felix Böck, ChopValue’s Founder and CEO, to learn more.
Take us to the beginning. What inspired you to base your creations on chopsticks?
I have a background in wood engineering from Germany and was pursuing a Ph.D. in structural bamboo composites in Vancouver, where I had the eye-opening moment connecting the chopsticks I ate dinner with to the vast amount of under-utilized resources. I had been trying to implement a regional program to tackle urban wood waste on a larger scale within the rapidly changing and wasteful housing market, but it fell on deaf ears. At the time, it was a problem that was too big for me to solve without support from industry.
I thought the humble little chopstick was a more relatable resource to show how to build a viable business simply from a resource efficiency perspective. ChopValue was founded in 2016 to prove just that. Since then, ChopValue has recycled over 50 million chopsticks, transforming them into minimalistic, sustainable home and office products built to last. We are also scaling our positive impact with franchising to ensure we are expanding responsibly, efficiently, and sustainably while staying carbon neutral.
Where do you source your chopsticks from?
We partner with restaurants, businesses, hotels, residential properties, casinos; you name it. If they have chopsticks, we’ll collect them and redefine what was once a waste stream into our valuable urban resource.
Can you take us through that process?
The chopsticks are sorted and dipped into a water-based resin that is an environmentally friendly alternative to what is used as a standard in the industry. Our resin is non-toxic and free of urea and formaldehyde, allowing us to manufacture VOC-free products.
What are some of your most surprising products? The ones that make people go, “You made that from chopsticks?”
Honestly, customers are surprised that any of our products are made from chopsticks because of the value we have created from something that was once considered garbage. This year, certain items such as our height-adjustable desks and wall decor have done especially well because of the work-from-home trend. We’ve also worked on breath-taking custom projects, including beautiful end-grain components for staircases and two-storey wall panelling, which are all possible because of the variety in texture and our material’s modular design flexibility to accommodate each client’s preferences.
How does this process play into your overall company philosophy?
ChopValue’s goal is to accelerate our positive environmental impact by making the circular economy the norm and minimizing the company’s carbon footprint by being as local as possible to our consumers. We use franchising as a strategic tool, working within a well-established system to grow with value-aligned people and empower communities to have their own ChopValue Microfactories while creating new local job opportunities. We are committed to making a difference globally, and together with our franchise partners, we’re setting a new standard for local manufacturing.
How has the market responded to your sustainable concept?
Our team has experienced tremendous growth during our first year of franchising despite COVID, with 38 microfactories in development globally. In 2022, we will accelerate our growth by continuing to maximize our current success in finding community leaders who want to create a tangible, positive impact while providing employment opportunities for a more sustainable future.
Matt Bradford is a writer, editor, and longtime contributor at MediaEdge, publishers of Wood Industry e-digest and magazine. He has spent years reporting on the wood and construction industries and values the opportunity to provide insights into the secondary wood manufacturing community’s successes, challenges, and opportunities.