There is nothing more ubiquitous than a pair of chopsticks in Asian culture, especially the disposable wooden sort that comes with every takeaway.
Millions are used, discarded, and dumped into landfills, every single day.
In fact, chopsticks were probably the last thing on anyone’s mind in Singapore before Evelyn Hew came along with ChopValue, a company that makes office furniture and kitchen accessories from recycled chopsticks.
As managing director and founder of the Singapore franchise, Evelyn works tirelessly with local partners to provide the greasy chopsticks with a new lease of life. In doing so, she has also revived a manufacturing sector that has long been forgotten in Singapore.
Singapore’s very own eco-entrepreneur
Evelyn candidly admits to knowing very little about sustainability or environmentalism when she was younger. In those carefree years, the effect of environmental degradation is still a distant future.
Motherhood, however, changed her mindset. “My husband and I started imagining our children’s future and where the environment is headed. A sense of guilt and dread started to build, and we wanted to do something about it,” she shared.
It was this sense of mission, along with a passion for the environment that led to the creation of SmartCity Solutions, a digital solutions provider to the waste management industry back in 2015.
According to Evelyn, that was when she really saw the environmental challenges firsthand, prompting her to research and be on the lookout for other solutions. Of all places, Facebook directed their attention to ChopValue.
Fuelled by the limitless possibilities of turning overlooked trash into something beautiful, the decision to bring the ChopValue franchise to Singapore was made within a month.
“We knew it would work and inspire. Imagine building a circular economy using an often-ignored waste stream: the single-use chopstick,” she said.
But before production could begin, Evelyn and her team would need to find enough partners to support the mission and ensure a consistent supply of chopsticks for upcycling.
We approached restaurants, hospitals, schools and offices, sharing with them how ChopValue is creating a channel for waste collection with minimal disruptions to their operations.
Before we started, we expected a high level of rejection. However, we were really touched when we found that many businesses were ready and willing to partner with us and foster a circular economy.– Evelyn Hew, founder and managing director of ChopValue Singapore
Turning chopsticks into furniture
To date, ChopValue has over 100 recycling partners and upcycled over millions of chopsticks.
Team members can be seen travelling around restaurants, hospitals, and hawker centres twice a week, collecting hundreds of thousands of chopsticks and upcycling them into chic pieces of furniture at their microfactory in Loyang.
Using a combustion of high heat and pressure to remove the bacteria from the chopsticks, they are then dried and pressed into composite tiles that form the raw material for the different products.
Currently, it takes as little as 75 chopsticks to make a coaster and up to 10,000 chopsticks for an office desk.
Since opening its first factory in December 2021, ChopValue has grown from strength to strength, expanding its product offerings and getting stocked at more retail outlets.
According to Evelyn, there are also plans to open two more microfactories in Singapore in 2023 and increase engagement with the Malaysian community.
“We are constantly in contact with like-minded people, and there is motivation and momentum to scale the business. However, we are also cautious about how we grow without diluting our brand ethics.”
Chasing the green dollar
With more and more people wanting to spend their money on sustainable products, ChopValue is astute at spotting the insatiable demand for brands that embrace purpose and sustainability.
But with a rising cost of living, would Singaporeans still be willing to pay more for sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives?
“There is a range of buying motives, and being a sustainable alternative alone is not enough,” said Evelyn.
For a business to have longevity, it is about adding value, not only to the user, but also to the community. Along the way, the product should be able to start meaningful conversations and spark positive change.
But most importantly, a sustainable product, like any other, has to provide better performance, design and quality to win customers.
A chopstick is worth one cent, and maybe even less when used. But we can add value and transform waste into a resource, thus increasing its value a hundred-fold.
Overall, if it is a better product, an interesting conversation starter, and just so happens to be sustainable, I think Singaporeans can subscribe to that.– Evelyn Hew, founder and managing director of ChopValue Singapore
It is still early days. But with Evelyn’s philosophy in mind, ChopValue products might just become a design staple in every Singapore home.
Featured Image Credit: ChopValue