I'm surprised it's taken me so long to get around to writing about this. I've been pretty outspoken on the issue within the Shiga JET community; I think some people regard me as the waribashi deputy. Here's why:
Every year the average Japanese person uses 200 pairs of waribashi, one-time use wooden chopsticks.
In a country of roughly 130,000 this amounts to 25 Billion sets of wasted natural resources. And although this has been happening in Japan for hundreds of years, and despite having the modern technology to do so, THE JAPANESE PEOPLE DO NOT EVEN CREATE A WAY TO RECYCLE THESE WARIBASHI! How has this escaped reformation in a country renown for recycling (another legend that I am seeing contrary evidence of)?
The saddest part of this story is that Japan has been taking advantage of globalization (a primitive beast that needs a good whack over the head from a caveman's club), in that they have been getting waribashi from their continental neighbor, China. Japanese people love to tout having beautiful forests, but they don't have a problem taking someone else's. I've seen a few figures, and I think the number of trees leveled for Japan's waribashi is in the neighborhood of 25 billion.
Here are a few articles on waribashi and their pending survival.
"Japanese fear shortage of disposable chopsticks." What a wretched title that reveals the 'true problem': business. Who cares about the environment, without which business would be but a ant's dream? Not the Japanese. Until last year not the Americans. China's following suit with the globalization brontosaurus--it looks like they're going to test their luck eating eating paper and gold while breathing sulfur and coal dust.
See Big: Waribashi. This is a great site, much more objective and diligent than I. I go for a more hyperbolic approach, full of rebuke, conflagration, and love. But we both cheer for the environment--go earth! If you go to this site, also hit the link to BEE Japan. A cool group that cycles across Japan every year to raise environmental awareness. I'd like to participate after my time with JET is finished. I'll include a link to BEE Japan on the sidebar as well.
So now that I've spouted out the answer and all the brimstone along with it, it's time for the solution: Mybashi, reusuable chopsticks. Katie and I got a few pairs of these soon after I arrived last year and have been promoting them ever since. We even have lacquer cases and take them everywhere to avoid using waribashi. I got mybashi for all of my English teachers at Kusatsu as お土産 (omiyage-souvenirs) back in May, and they loved it. Many of them already have mybashi, but it never hurts to have a few pairs because they wear done and are easily misplaced. I keep an extra pair at school just in case I forget my usuals, and a few times I lent them to students who were searching for waribashi. They were quite baffled because I was so insistent on using the mybashi.
On the ShigaJet website I also put out a post saying I would buy anyone Mybashi who emailed me--lazy *%ers didn't do it however (just kidding, love you guys!).
And now I'm extending the same offer to you! If you want mybashi, email me, and I will gladly give you a pair. I am not at all joking, so please, anyone who uses chopsticks, take me up on this. I will even select a pair that suits your character and body shape as best I can. Please mail me--メールをお待たしております！
And even if you are a strict mybashi user, you will quickly discover than in Japan gypsy-eyed convenience store clerks and check-out girls will sneak pairs of waribashi into your grocery bag when you are not looking. 王将、the famous Chinese chain restaurant is notorious at tossing in between 2-4 waribashi sets with every take-out order. What to do?--どうしよう？
I leave that up to you, but here are some ideas:
1) I have kept a few that I received unawares at school just in case, because I've already been duped and there is no return policy on waribashi.
2) I use one of these pairs at school for stirring my coffee. I've never washed it and it's stained brown and I'm pretty sure the guy who sits next to me thinks it's disgusting, but I'm recycling so I don't really care.
3) With a collection of about 50 or so that have accumulated over the year (those check-out girls are sly, man, I'm telling you), Katie and I are planning on making a tree.
That's all for now, but please check out those sites because this is a pretty serious problem that can be easily avoided.