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

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Back to Nussbaum or Ahead to Teen mothers

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.

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.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend