U.S. wood chopsticks head to ChinaAMERICUS, GA

- Plentiful sweet gum and spruce in Georgia's forests have made Georgia Chopsticks a wood manufacturing firm export success story. Shipping millions of chopsticks, the essential Asian eating utensil, to lumber-starved markets in Asia, the 57-employee start-up churns out two million pairs daily, with plans to double this month, then reach 10 million daily production by year's end. Payroll could reach 100.

Launched by Korean-American Jae-Lee, the wood products firm has become a symbol for the potential U.S. comeback advantage, so much so it has been featured with a story and photography by P. Graitcer on the federally funded Voice of America news channel, broadcast on U.S. media outlets around the world. It was quickly picked up by a National Public Radio report last week.

"End of this month, we’ll have seven machines coming in, so it’ll
increase to like four million per day," Jae Lee, president of Georgia Chopsticks, told Graitcer. "End of this year, we’ll produce
10 million per day.”

The market is huge, since one-third of the world eats with chopsticks. Disposable unlacquered bamboo and wood chopsticks are among the most popular types in Asia and around the world, their matte surfaces providing a good grip for holding food. Typically wood that is partially cut, with a wide gripping end and tapered eating end, and are split into two chopsticks by the user. Natural wood chopsticks, notes Wikipedia, like natural wood food preparation surfaces, have an innate antibacterial property.
Japan alone goes through about 23 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks annually, according to Lee. 

Figures from 2007, when China produced 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks, calculated this used 1.7 million cubic meters of timber or 25 million fully grown trees. A movement to discourage disposable chopsticks with a 5 percent tax hasn't helped. China's hundreds of domestic manufacturers turned out 63 billion pairs last year, a 50 percent increase

"The Pacific Rim, especially areas of China and Japan, they’ve run out of wood, but we have an abundance of it,” David Garriga told Voice of America. Garriga heads the Americus-Sumter County Payroll Development Authority. Sweet gum and poplars make perfect chopsticks, he says, since the wood is pliable, straight and is naturally light - requiring no bleaching like other species.

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