Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Disposable Chopstick Scare

This morning I received an email warning me of the perils of eating with disposable chopsticks, and it was only last night that I was eating food with a pair of disposable chopsticks at Big Orange. Some would be convinced of the truth and some would discount it as an urban legend. However, I would leave to it you to decide on the accuracy of the contents of the email:

Bamboo used in making disposable chopsticks

While reputable manufacturers would use good quality bamboo, others would use waste material from making boards and planks.

A production facility in central Vietnam

Bleaching chopsticks with sulfur dioxide & Hydrogen Peroxide

Both these chemicals are known to cause asthmatic attacks in asthmatics, rashes and abdominal upsets for those sensitive to these chemicals.

The drying process

Packing chopsticks for export to Taiwan and Japan

Wrapping chopsticks.

Note that throughout the whole process, the chopsticks are handled with bare hands.

An unsuspecting customer

Inside a chopstick

Millions of "monkeys" in it

Inside a chopstick magnified. Lodged in these holes are the chemicals used in bleaching the chopsticks to give them that white colour so loved by chopstick users.

Conclusions from an experiment conducted by a primary school student:

1. chopsticks soaked in water for one week stink

2. Green pea germinated in the water requires a longer growing period and stops growing after reaching 5-6 cm before it dies

3. Smoke from burning these chopsticks is found to be acidic.

What happened to these used chopsticks?

It is unusual that the writer would use an experiment conducted by a primary school student to substantiate his claims. However, a report from the Association for Asia Research did cast doubts on the safety of disposable chopsticks (read here for more details). On the other hand, Snopes.com dismissed it as an urban legend (read here for more details).

While there is concern over the use of harmful chemicals in chopstick manufacturing, a greater worry is the recycling of used chopsticks for reuse as reported in Reuters in August 2007 (Read here for more information).

The sensible solution dear readers, is to pack a pair of chopsticks whenever you go for your meals. Alternatively, check the manufacturer's name and address or contact information on the wrapping. As a last measure, bring the chopsticks close to your nose as sulfur dioxide has a strong, recognizable odour.


Disposable Chopsticks

On an average, 23 to 25 billion disposable chopsticks are used every year in Japan (around 200 per person). Of this, 90 percent is imported and 10 percent is made domestically. If put end to end, the chopsticks will l stretch from Tokyo to the southern city of Fukuoka in Kyushu!

From http://dolphin.c.u-tokyo.ac.jp/~sanshiro/, in Japanese.
- Eco Special Interest Group (EcoSIG), Japan.

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