Monday, November 14, 2011

Chopsticks Destroy Forests, While Toymakers Save Them

I couldn't help but link up these two items within the same post. Chopsticks and toys - who would think that these common items would implicate forest resources to a great degree? 

How many trees does it take to produce China's chopstick demand for one year? 3.8 Chopstick2-blog480 million trees. It takes 3.8 million trees to manufacture 57 billion pair of disposable chopsticks. And this is only half of the chopstick demand worldwide, according to an article in the New York Times. The article goes on to state that: "Chopsticks add to a plague of regional deforestation. According to a 2008 United Nations report, 10,800 square miles of Asian forest are disappearing each year, a trend that must be arrested to fight climate change, given the vital role trees play in absorbing carbon dioxide." Not only do chopsticks threaten the forests, but also may lead to human health risks as "industrial-grade sulfur, paraffin, hydrogen peroxide and insect repellent are among the harmful chemicals that Chinese media investigations have exposed during production. . . Paraffin is a known carcinogen, and hydrogen peroxide can harm the digestive system. Chopsticks irresponsibly disposed of can contaminate water and soil quality." Of course, the alternative to disposable wooden chopsticks are plastic reusable ones. I have opined about the sometimes greater, sometimes lesser of evils plastic products seem to present here, here, here, and here. Yet again, plastic usage vs. consumption of other natural resources provides a trade-off. All of the problems that go with the chemicals and petroleum products used to make plastics may be worth a trade for leaving 10,800 square miles of Asian forest intact each year - especially considering the role of forests in combating climate change. Furthermore, plastic chopsticks sequester carbon and store it away (virtually) forever, given how long plastic persists in our environment. But who knew my frequent trips to Pei Wei were fraught with such a choice of evils: use plastic forks that persist in the environment forever, contribute to land waste issues, and contain harmful chemicals, or use disposable chopsticks that destroy important forest resources. And all I wanted to do was enjoy my Honey Seared Chicken.

Meanwhile, toymaker Hasbro has taken steps to fight deforestation. Hasbro Tree Hugging Transformer is the second largest toy company in the U.S. and has recently introduced a new packaging policy that no longer uses forest products from deforested rainforest. Mongabay reports that Hasbro made the policy shift in response to a Greenpeace campaign that targeted toy companies who use packaging manufactured from deforested rainforest. Mattel and Lego have undertaken similar measures. The campaign specifically targeted Asia Pulp & Paper, a company blamed for leading to rainforest destruction in the Indonesian island of Sumatra, home of the Sumatran tiger - the last Indonesian tiger.

So when you eat Asian food, consider your choice of utensil carefully. And when you consider which toy to buy as a birthday gift, consider the company that produces it. Each of these choices can impact forest resources across the globe - forests that provide innumerable benefits, not the least of which is perhaps the easiest means of combating climate change through carbon sequestration (forest destruction and degradation, after all, account for 20 percent of carbon emissions worldwide each year - more than is emitted by the transportation sector). 

- Blake Hudson

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