Evelyn Hew is championing the circular economy by “urban harvesting” disposable chopsticks, and turning them into functional designs.
11 November 2021
Text by Redzman Rahmat
The problem of over-consumption is a pressing issue across the world. It leads to a lot of waste, an amount that is increasing by over seven times over the last 40 years. Thankfully, more Singaporeans are becoming highly aware of environmental issues, and there’s a stronger call for further adoption of green practices in our island.
One of the suggestions to improve sustainability is the adoption of a new economic model, the circular economy, which aims to eliminate waste through methods such as composting, recycling or upcycling.
One advocate of the circular economy is Evelyn Hew. The mother of three specialises in providing sustainable solutions for businesses through Smartcity Solutions and now, is taking further steps to help Singapore freeze its carbon footprint.
Evelyn has recently introduced Canadian company ChopValue into Singapore and the region. ChopValue has an ambitious yet admirable mission: to take mass produced single-use items and transform them into newly engineered materials that can be used as building materials.
To that end, ChopValue takes disposable chopsticks, puts them through zero-emission and non-toxic manufacturing processes and transforms them into beautiful and functional furniture and decor pieces.
We speak to the Evelyn to find out more.
The search for a solution began in 2016 when I was managing Smartcity Solutions. I saw first-hand the waste problem we’re facing in Singapore: the challenges in recycling and upcycling, the lack in off-takers for our recyclables, the contamination in our recyclables, and the lack of innovative products made from recycled materials.
Earlier this year in February, we chanced upon a video of ChopValue. ChopValue ticked all the boxes of the solution we were looking for! When I first saw the video, I thought that this brand may potentially be the catalyst Singapore is looking for, to make the circular economy the norm. After connecting with Felix Böck in Canada about bringing in the brand, by March 2021, my team and I had committed to bringing this circular economy franchise to Southeast Asia.
We hope that ChopValue will help to inspire the population and influence them to start recycling or upcycling with something even as basic as a pair of chopsticks. A small action can have a huge impact! For example, we estimate at least 500,000 chopsticks are thrown out every day in Singapore. Chopsticks are a wooden resource that we fly 9,000 km from China only to be used for 20-30 minutes. It’s a huge waste. We have an ambitious goal to upcycle all of these chopsticks. If we achieve this, every year, we will save 550 tonnes of waste from incineration and storing 335,000 kg of carbon in functional products. We would also have provided an alternative that outperforms traditional lumber, and is stronger than oak and harder than maple. This will allow us to create products we need without extracting virgin resources from forests, protecting the lungs of our planet. And the best part, we get to enjoy beautifully designed, conversation starters. Imagine working on a desk made from chopsticks you may have used last week!
The collected chopsticks are processed in our microfactory. After being sorted according to sizes, the chopsticks are dipped into a toxin-free, water-based resin. No water is wasted in our whole process as we do not wash the chopsticks. To sanitize them, we bake them with 200 Degrees Celsius heat for 8 hours. The chopsticks are then put through immense pressure that transforms them into a newly engineered material to later be shaped and cut into different sizes. ChopValue’s manufacturing process ‘locks up carbon’ for years to come. The manufacturing process has also been carefully tweaked to ensure that the process emits as little carbon as possible, uses as little water as possible and with zero usage of toxins.
We work together with Sembwaste to collect chopsticks through their EZi Recycling programme, and via our outreach efforts. The traction has been surprisingly strong; over a hundred restaurants are participating, with notable brands like Tatsuya at Goodwood Park Hotel, the Keisuke Group and Siam Square Mookata. Even hospitals have signed on: Kandang Kerbau Hospital (KKH), Singapore General Hospital and Sengkang General Hospital. We’re planning to reach out to coffeeshops and the general public too. Waste is a “shared” problem and it can be solved with a “shared” solution.
I personally love the SMILE modular shelving systems as they are just so elegantly designed and installing them is so simple. No matter the size of the wall, with modules, you can fit them in any space! You can even expand it when you have the need for it. Even the string frame is made from recycled construction steel!
The newly engineered material is stronger than oak, harder than maple and as durable as teak. The material rates 2450 on the Janka Hardness scale and for strength, MOE (Modulus of Elasticity): 12500N/mm2, MOR (Modulus of Rupture): 45 N/mm2. And due to our process, every single piece possesses a unique grain, just like natural lumber.
Our sustainability mission can sometimes be a business challenge. We want to accelerate the circular economy by local manufacturing of handmade pieces. Not to mention, our supply is limited by the Urban Harvest we can achieve. We can’t just place an order for a container of raw materials. Collections and Manufacturing in Singapore is also relatively expensive. We believe that a local problem should be solved by the locals, and manpower is a challenge. However, we have plans to enable us to scale with the help of technology.
Yes! Chopsticks are just the start. We will be looking at other components of our waste stream. However, the waste problem is a huge one. We can’t tackle it by ourselves. That’s why at our core, we are a collaborative startup. We hope to work with the government, large corporates, SMEs and most importantly, the public. We hope that we can inspire others around us to join the cause and create other solutions to solve the environmental challenges. I have a favourite quote from Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
We think you may also like 10 easy ways to live a more sustainable life at home
Like what you just read? Similar articles below
Hong Kong lifestyle retailer Goods of Desire opened its first store outside of its home city, right here in Singapore.
The launch of the Lookbox Living online portal was an amazing success.
White Horse Ceramic proudly opens its new showroom at Balestier Point