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Making sustainability the default option – CO2, chopsticks …And organ donors 

I love fun facts. Recently, I came across one of those fun fact articles about how we are destroying the planet, with our overconsumptions of weird products. One of the facts where:

‘About 3.8 million trees are cut down to produce 57 billion disposable pairs of chopsticks every year,’

That’s a lot of chopsticks

Many of them are going towards restaurants in Asia. According to the article 77% of them are produced for Japan alone. But it still made me think about my own relationship with disposable chopsticks.

The number kept ringing in my head; 3.8 million trees. Just think of all that carbon dioxide they could be absorbing.

It turns out that one tree can absorb about 21,8 kg of CO2 per year. That translates to roughly 8.300 ton per year in chopsticks alone! And this is not counting the paper wrapping, water used for manufacture, or transportation.

It disturbed me, because every time I order sushi, I get extra chopstick -even when I make a note on my order that I don’t need them. I have my own special chopsticks that I really like using, so the disposable chopstick end up in a drawer and gets used for crafts at some point – or end up in the bin. This is a picture of a craft project I used it for.

The Tiny Tempel. A tiny art project created, and burned, for Balsa Man Denmark 2014

The Tiny Tempel. A tiny art project created, and burned, for Balsa Man Denmark 2014

I doubt that I am the only person with nice chopsticks at home, who would prefer to not have the disposable ones added to their order.

But growing trees is good for the environment, right?

Some have pointed out, that the trees used for chopsticks are actually good for the environment, as they assure that land area is reserved for trees, and not concrete og buildings. And yes, this is true, but it’s not the whole story.

When planting “chopstick fields”, farmers/companies plant monoculture crops. This means they only plant one species of trees or crops. Like palm oil plantations only have palm trees. This has negative effects on the environment as they cause soil erosion, and a loss in biodiversity.

By removing forest areas to make way for monoculture, you have already released more carbon dioxide, than you will absorb with monoculture chopstick fields. So how do we solve the problem of too many chopsticks?

Instead of thinking of way to recycle them, or using them as a downgraded end product, like my craft ideas, we might as well grab the problem at the root, before you, and I, get them added to our order.

Learning from other fields – A lesson from organ donations

One smart solution could be, that you had to add chopstick to and order, for a small amount of money. So you would have to actively add chopsticks to your order. By having ‘No chopsticks’ as the default method, you enter the field of POLR, Path Of Least Resistance.

The term comes from the field of psychology and behavioral change – it’s used often in the popular ‘Nudging’ campaigns, where a certain action is wanted. A great example of POLR is the Austrian organ donor program.

In short, instead of campaigning to get people to opt in and actively sign op for organ donation, the Austrian government changed the regulations and made every citizen an organ donor by default. You could of course opt out. And plenty of easy opt out solutions where presented to the public. And the result?

In Austria, about 99% of the population are organ donors. 99%. In comparison, Germany has 12%. Is this because Germans are egocentric people who want to keep their organs inside their corps? No, it’s all to do with the system, and the amount of hard, and easy choices you have to make.

Imbed smarter systems and make sustainability the default option.

Imbed smarter systems and make sustainability the default option.

Making organ donation the default option, takes away the resistance that keep people from signing op as an organ donor.

you think to yourself: ‘It’s a hassle, and I might even have to choose which organs to donate, and witch not to. I would maybe have to discuss it with your next of kind.

…Wow, that’s not a nice conversation. Honey, if I die, would you like to keep any of my body part? Better wait. Better sign up some other day. Take some time to think about it to make sure we make the right decision’. And then we never sign up.

‘Av! Stop thinking so much!’

Sincerely, your lazy brain 

Decisions are hard. They eat up energy. And we make decisions everyday, all day. Hence, the choice of sustainability should be default, and not something that requires too much energy from us. And it certainly shouldn’t require a lot of extra time, money, and discomfort.

So, back to the chopsticks. Using the above knowledge lets implement a system, where you would have to actively add chopsticks to your order. This would:

a) save environmental costs,

b) save money for the restaurant owners, seeing as they would need to buy less chopsticks, and

c) allow me to use my nice chopsticks without throwing the disposable ones in the trash.

 

I actually wrote to a big Danish take-out company, Just-Eat, and asked them if this was possible. I got a great answer from them. I’ll share it in a follow up post.

But right now, I’m gonna eat some sushi with my nice chopsticks.

 

Ps. Help generate some chopstick data!

What’s you chopstick status? Fill out this super short google form, or tell me in the comment, what you do with your excess chopsticks. Then we have more data for the follow up post.

Credit:

I lot of people helped motivate and inspire me to write this. I am very grateful! A special thanks to Courtney King for motivations and support.