Why she spent S$1 million on her chopstick-upcycling company

Evelyn Hew, ChopValue. (PHOTO: ChopValue)

SINGAPORE – Profit is no longer the sole motivating factor behind starting a business for Evelyn Hew, 37, founder of ChopValue Singapore, an upcycling company that transforms used disposable chopsticks into new products for the home and office, such as cheese boards and office desks.

In an interview with, she stated that “it’s more satisfying to be helping the community, environment, inspiring other people, and improving our future for our kids.” Yahoo Finance Singapore.

The cheese boards sell for around S$28 and office desks are available at S$1,288.

Justin Lee, 42, Justin Hew’s husband and general manager at ChopValue Singapore was the first to become environmentally conscious when he founded Smart City Solutions in 2015, which provides digital solutions for waste management. They were able to get firsthand information about Singapore’s waste problems.

Hew explained that after seeing the waste problem, Hew felt an emotional connection with it.

Lee stated that they were looking to create an initiative where consumers can take part on a personal level.

The couple reached out to ChopValue founder, a Canadian company that recycles disposable chopsticks. Hew and Lee agreed within a week to open ChopValue’s first Asian franchise in Singapore. The business was established in April 2021.

Since then, they have recycled approximately 4.4 million pairs.

ChopValue office desk made out of recycled chopsticks.

ChopValue office table made of recycled chopsticks

Hew shares details about ChopValue’s workings:

What happens to the used chopsticks?

We mainly get our chopsticks mostly from the 120 restaurants that are working with us. Each week we collect approximately 400kg to 600kg or 66,000 to 99,000 pair of chopsticks. Surprisingly, everyone has been very happy to be part of our recycling programme despite the pandemic – our rejection rate is only about 1 per cent or 2 per cent, and this usually occurs when we are unable to speak to the owners or decision makers. Some restaurants have very small facilities and don’t have enough space to store chopsticks.

Our partner restaurants may receive some discounts on our products but I believe that most people participate in our program because they are social conscious. Our team also provides free collection and recycling bins to chopsticks. Our team also collects chopsticks from restaurants twice per week, which reduces waste and trips to waste collection point.

After we have collected the used chopsticks, they are separated according to length and materials. We then add an eco-friendly resin to the chopsticks. After separating the chopsticks, we bake them at high heat for several hours to clean them. This is a more eco-friendly option than using water. Our products become stronger than solid wood after the whole process is completed.

What’s your current business model?

We initially thought that the business would be primarily business-to-consumer-focused when we started it. We were initially focused on business-to-consumer when we first started, but large corporations began to contact us for orders after we got media attention.

Currently, about 80 percent of our orders are from businesses. The remaining 20% come from customers. We are profitable in business and have seen incredible growth since we switched from a B2C business to a Business-to-Business model.

Because of the large corporations’ constant efforts to sustain their business operations, most of our future sales will still come from orders placed by businesses. It will likely take at least five more years before our consumer sales are comparable to our corporate sales.

To feel connected to the upcycling process and to the waste problem, we believe it’s vital for consumers to be physically able to see and touch the products of their waste. It is very difficult to know where your waste is going if it’s not possible.

ChopValue cheeseboard made out of recycled chopsticks.

ChopValue cheeseboard crafted from recycled chopsticks

What were some of the risks that you took in order to open ChopValue Singapore

The biggest risk we took was a financial one – we invested about a million dollars into the business. We have other businesses that also need funds to operate so it would have been catastrophic if ChopValue Singapore failed.

Smart City Solutions is not the only business we are part of. We also have three other businesses that operate in the food-and-beverage franchising industry.

Hence, another trade-off was also spending less time working on our other business – ChopValue Singapore takes up about 90 per cent of our time now.

What challenges do you see yourself facing and what have you done to overcome them?

The most difficult challenge for the company was the transfer of knowledge from Canada. They were supposed to fly from Canada to guide and train us in the process of making chopsticks into new products. They were not able due to flight problems.

Our training was therefore done virtually. It was difficult because our cameras had poor resolution and we couldn’t get the hands-on experience needed, such as smelling and touching the materials. It was also difficult to learn how to use some basic tools for the first few months.

We will need to be more mindful of our carbon footprint in the future. There will be market forces that push us towards mega factories and a single source production and manufacturing. However, if we have overseas production plants, the carbon emissions from our logistics will be significant and will negate a lot of what we are trying do.

What are your future plans for the future?

We are licensed to work in Singapore and Malaysia. So we intend to establish a Malaysia franchise in the second quarter of 2023. Our current team consists of 10 people. We plan to increase it by adding some Malaysian team members.

In Singapore, we plan to reuse other items than chopsticks and to expand our reach to 500 restaurants to collect waste by the third quarter of this year.

We also plan to take our recycling program to hawker centers. This is where we can really reach the masses, and have an impact on the environment.

We can store around 500,000kg of carbon dioxide equivalent waste in Singapore every day, with close to one million chopsticks being thrown away each day.

We want to inspire others to take a look at our waste stream and see if there is a way to convert it into resources.

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