Nearly five years ago, Felix Böck was sitting down at dinner. As a wood engineer, he saw time and time again how much waste the industry was producing. He ranted over plates of sushi about this, wishing there was an alternative way. Then, he looked down, saw the pair of greasy chopsticks in his hand, and he had an idea that would soon catalyze the company he founded: ChopValue, a model of a circular economy that crafts homewares out of used utensils and has already diverted over 53 million chopsticks from landfills.
ChopValue builds modular and minimalist pieces that—aesthetically and industrially—champion efficiency. Clean edges, classic structures and functionality are paramount, a decision that lended itself to their timeless aesthetic as well as sustainable manufacturing. “Every curve, every circle or rounded corner creates pieces that we call off-cuts that are really hard to reutilize in the process, so that’s why we are trying to stay as streamlined as possible,” Böck tells us. Not only are the products made from waste but they are also re-purposed in a way that helps them further reduce off-cuts. Thus, straight lines and hexagonal silhouettes provide elegant furniture while being even more sustainable.
The seemingly humble chopstick also has benefits as a design material. As Böck explains, “It’s actually harder than oak and stronger than maple, so it’s fairly hard in order for us to achieve that durability. It’s really another high-performing hardwood that can be used for furniture design.”
To create their collection, ChopValue sources chopsticks by partnering with local restaurants, a closed loop system that, at the end, allows the restaurants to work with the brand to build their own interiors. Every week, ChopValue employees drive to pick up the supplies which are then taken to a microfactory, where Böck and his team had to invent their own custom machinery. The first step in their production line is to sort through the chopsticks and align them. From there, the chopsticks go through a water-based resin bath (using resin from the automotive industry) and are dried with heat to remove moisture and bacteria. At the end, they go into a hydraulic system that introduces them to heat, steam and pressure to compress them into the new material. The total procedure is carbon-negative, storing over 65 thousand kilograms of CO2 in their products. That’s the equivalent of charging 8,165,391 cellphones.
While the company started in Vancouver, Canada, ChopValue has since expanded around the world with microfactories in Singapore, Boston, Mexico City, Las Vegas, Liverpool and more. This scattered production system follows a decentralized manufacturing approach—another thoughtful innovation to help make the company as sustainable as possible. “Traditional manufacturing is one location, one big factory, that produces a product in mass manufacturing. What that means is you have to transport all the resources and raw materials that you need to this factory, then it gets produced, and then you ship the end product all around the world,” Böck continues. “But nowadays we just can’t afford that crazy carbon footprint that comes with logistics and interruptions of supply chains.”
In contrast, the decentralized concept has many microfactories that can produce product where the resources for it are located and for the regional market. This is a greener process that cuts down on emissions. “To have this decentralized concept of microfactories all around the world, we can build a global brand with the local aspect,” the founder adds.
Just as Böck expanded the company in a way that responsibly analyzes its impact on the planet, the founder continues to extend the brand’s line of products in a way that continues to rethink manufacturing. In September, they released their Closed Loop Collection, made in collaboration with ergonomic standing desk EFFYDESK. This line focuses on products for working from home, featuring an adjustable butcher-block desk, rolling cabinet and phone stand and more.
This year, they plan on rolling out a line of stationary and planters, too. Ultimately, however, the mission is to set an example. “We are really on the path to not only creating a viable circular economy but also turning waste streams into new resources for beautiful products, one chopstick at a time,” explains Böck. “I always say: if we can do it with chopsticks, imagine what else is possible.”
Images courtesy of ChopValue