China's demand for disposable chopsticks has increased by nearly 30 billion in the past few years, and the need has become a burden on the country's forests.
According to Bai Guangxin, chairman of Jilin Forestry Industry Group, China produces 80 billion disposable chopsticks per year, state news agency Xinhua reports. According to a HuffPost translation, Bai estimated during a meeting at parliament on Friday that 20 million 20-year-old trees would be required to cover China's annual chopstick production.
A previous estimate from China's state forestry administration, based on statistics from 2004 to 2009, put the yearly total at 57 billion disposable chopsticks -- a far cry from Bai's current estimate. Comparatively, the production of 57 billion chopsticks accounted for the destruction of 3.8 million trees, the New York Times reported in 2011.
The consequences of China's chopstick production -- deforestation, for one -- have prompted action from some environmental groups. In 2010, Greenpeace East Asia partnered with Chinese artist Yinhai Xu to create a disposable chopstick forest in a public space to shed light on the country's staggering demand for wood to make the utensils.
Bai pointed out during the meeting Friday that the Chinese government has also begun taking action by introducing policies limiting manufacturing of disposable chopsticks.
Government actions range from a 5-percent tax levied in 2006 on disposable chopsticks, to a 2010 warning of potential government regulations for companies that fail to strictly supervise disposable chopstick production.
While China plans to increase its forest coverage by 40 million hectares before 2020, increased production of disposable chopsticks could hinder that goal.
"We should change our consumption habits and encourage people to carry their own tableware," Bai recommended on Friday.
In the U.S., Americans threw out 31 million tons of plastic -- including plastic utensils -- in 2010, making up 12.4 percent of the nation's municipal solid waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 8 percent of that plastic waste was recovered from recycling.