God's little chopsticks

Every day, Mitsubishi cuts down 100-year-old aspen forests to make 8 million disposable eating utensils for you and me--and they say they're protecting nature

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American and Japanese corporations are running neck and neck in their competition to see who can produce the world's most absurdly wasteful, absolutely unnecessary paraphernalia, such as individually foil-wrapped tea bags, oversized compact disc packaging, and plastic wrapping for all. But Japan definitely reigns supreme when it comes to disposable chopsticks, or "waribashi," as they're known in the sushi bars, noodle shops, and fast-food joints ubiquitous to the island nation. Total world waribashi production stands at about 20 billion pair a year, most of which are used in Japan after they are imported from forests in such far-flung places as China, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Canada.

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While restaurants in other Asian countries wash and reuse chopsticks, the Japanese "don't want to use a chopstick that is used by someone else," explained Yuki Komayima, former president of the Cana-dian Chopstick Manufacturing Company (CCMC), to the Vancouver Sun. Komayima added that Japanese people traditionally believe chopsticks to be "given by the gods."

Such tradition, melded into modern industrial society, produces quite a twisted reality. A major player in today's wari-bashi God Squad is the Mitsubishi Group, one of the largest industrial conglomerates in the world, which owns a hefty chunk of CCMC. Mitsubishi created CCMC in a joint venture with a Japanese chemical corporation; they have now captured a third of Japan's waribashi market.

According to the Rainforest Action Network, which is organizing a boycott to halt Mitsubishi's forest destruction around the world, CCMC is clear-cutting vast swaths of aspen forests to produce 8 million pairs of chopsticks every day. CCMC feeds only the finest-grain aspen into its high-tech chopstick mill, leaving more than three-quarters of the trees in the field to rot or burn--outraging Canadian government foresters and activists alike. CCMC then ships the raw waribashi to Taiwan for finishing before they are imported to Japan. The waribashi are marketed with the motto, "chopsticks that protect nature," and then promptly discarded after use.