Chopsticks often have a short life as a disposable utensil, used once and thrown away.
But now one facility in Las Vegas is looking to revitalize and reshape these utensils into wooden furniture and other products.
ChopValue Las Vegas takes in used chopsticks from restaurants around Las Vegas and gives them new life at its microfactory, located next to the 215 Beltway and Harry Reid International Airport. The chopsticks are sorted, coated in chemicals, dried and pressed and then molded into a wide range of products.
“If it’s made out of wood, we can probably make it,” Brooks Smith, the owner of ChopValue’s Las Vegas franchise, said. “So anything from cutting boards, to tables, to chairs, to stools, to wall art.”
All of this is done at the ChopValue microfactory that’s about 3,400 square feet of space with piles of used chopsticks waiting for new life, according Smith.
Las Vegas was chosen as the first ChopValue location in the U.S. because of the area’s high number of Asian restaurants, and it follows the lead of other sustainability projects taken on by the bigger resorts in town, according to Felix Bock, the founder and CEO of Vancouver, Canada-based ChopValue. The company currently has 11 microfactories open in six countries and has plans for an additional 60 locations across the world, according to an email ChopValue sent the Review-Journal.
“We want to join the locals of Las Vegas and the mega-casino industry to continue forward thinking of making more environmentally conscious choices,” Bock said in a statement. “I’m pleased we can help businesses address the urgency of climate change in a way that provides significant value in job opportunities and the creation of a new resource.”
Smith, a Las Vegas local, said he has been interested in sustainability for a long time. He said he first became interested in bringing a ChopValue to the city during the pandemic after reading about it online. He reached out to Bock and there was immediate interest on both sides.
“I was traveling around the world, seeing how other countries kind of handle their recycling. I kind of want to bring that message back to Vegas,” Smith said. “We have plenty of restaurants here, we’re big in tourism and it just seemed like a right fit for a company of this model.”
The microfactory began collecting chopsticks this past January and in just the last four months has been able to reshape these chopsticks into sellable products, according to Smith.
On an average week, ChopValue collects 500 – 600 kilograms (1,100 – 1,300 pounds) of chopsticks, according to Smith. Overall ChopValue claims it has recycled over 84.7 million chopsticks since it began operations in 2016.
To get its chopsticks, ChopValue offers a complimentary service where it places recycle bins in restaurants that use wood or bamboo chopsticks, according to Smith. Convincing restaurants to give their chopsticks to ChopValue hasn’t been challenging since they make collections at 130 restaurants across the valley.
“I know how chopsticks can just make a mess out of bags,” Smith said. “Most restaurants when we walk in, and we ask them to set up a recycle bin, they’re really happy, they’re like, ‘Oh, somebody’s recycling these chopsticks for us, gives us less headache.’”
Although the most prominent restaurants in Las Vegas are located on the Strip, Smith isn’t focused on going to those businesses yet because it could be too time consuming for his operation, which is still in its early stages. But he doesn’t rule out working with Strip restaurants in the future.
“My plan of attack was to start from the outside and work my way in,” he said.
Right now, ChopValue doesn’t have a retail location to show its products but does sell them online. Smith said there are renovation plans for the ChopValue location to have a showroom floor in the spring of 2023 to let people directly buy the products.