ChopValue, a Vancouver-based company, is scaling up its microfactory model where single-use chopsticks are turned into recycled bamboo wood products like furniture and shelves with the closing of a $7.7-million fundraising round.
ChopValue was founded in 2016 by CEO Felix Böck, a forestry student at the University of British Columbia who was working toward his PhD exploring the use of bamboo as a building material. In 2015, he founded CrossLink Technologies, an engineering consultancy firm specializing in the wood and bamboo-based panel industry.
After a sushi meal where he grew frustrated with the disposal of single-use chopsticks, Böck formed ChopValue so chopsticks could be integrated into the circular economy.
ChopValue has recycled close to 100 million chopsticks with the help of its microfactory network started in 2020 that allows entrepreneurs to establish small, local recycling sites around the world.
In a press release, Böck said ChopValue demonstrates a “commitment to demonstrating that the circular economy should become the norm when our natural resources are strained, and our landfills continue to grow.”
Turning chopsticks into furniture
ChopValue’s recycling procedure starts by taking used chopsticks from restaurant partners. The chopsticks are sanitized in a water- and chemical-free process that uses resin, heat and a hydraulic press. They are recycled into a material that is turned into other wood-based products like tables, home décor and furniture, with the option for laser engraving.
Rather than focus on large recycling facilities, ChopValue is reaching out to prospective entrepreneurs to set up a franchise called a microfactory. For an initial franchising fee and other investments, ChopValue will help the microfactory owner with training, technical support and marketing.
The ChopValue website says microfactories can range from as small as a 500-square-foot pop-up space to 2,500 square feet at the largest. It currently has over 60 in-development or established microfactories across six countries.
ChopValue states it has recycled approximately 99.4 million chopsticks and stored 136,940 kilograms of carbon. By diverting the chopsticks from landfills where they can decompose and contribute carbon to the atmosphere, the recycled wood products sequester carbon.
The company website also says over 90 per cent of chopsticks are made out of bamboo, which grows faster than wood. ChopValue argues this means bamboo is more sustainable than wood.
The fundraising round
ChopValue raised $7.7 million in a funding round led by two technology entrepreneurs with interest in expanding the company to the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.
The press release says the funds will be used to expand ChopValue’s operations, specifically to “better serve B2B partnerships.” There is also the aim of increasing production capacity, developing new product lines and investing into research and development to optimize its micromanufacturing principles and reduce ChopValue’s environmental impact.
It has interest in expanding into California, Florida, Hawaii, New York and Texas, and into Europe, the Southeast Asia region, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.