Japan Looks to Chopsticks for Biofuel

Each of Japan's 127 million people uses an average of 200 sets a year, meaning 90,000 tons of wood per year.

Japan will try to turn the millions of wooden chopsticks that go discarded each year into biofuel to ease the country's energy shortage, officials said Aug. 22.

Restaurants and convenience stores generally hand out disposable, wooden chopsticks without asking. Each of Japan's 127 million people uses an average of 200 sets a year, meaning 90,000 tons of wood, according to government data. Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries plans to set up boxes to collect used chopsticks, ministry official Toyohisa Aoyama said.

"We will look at the pluses and minuses, including to greenhouse gas emissions, of the process of collecting the chopsticks, carrying them to facilities and then producing the biofuel," he said.

Disposable chopsticks have historically been a cash cow for Japan's forestry industry, which says it uses timber from thinning that would have otherwise been dumped. But today about 90% of chopsticks used in Japan are imported from China, mostly using bamboo and aspen timber, Aoyama said.

Earlier this month, a Chinese food association called for an end to the use of disposable chopsticks to make a "green" Olympics next year, saying 45 billion pairs were thrown away in China every year.

The ministry will seek a budget to study the recycling project. It is also hoping to study turning inedible products such as straw into biofuel to run cars.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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