for National Geographic News
China's growing appetite for timber has prompted a 5 percent tax on disposable wooden chopsticksa move designed to protect China's vanishing forests.
The chopstick tax is part of a broader package of consumption taxes aimed at protecting the environment and narrowing China's income gap. Targets include golf clubs, imported watches, solvents, wooden floorboards, cars with poor emissions scores, and yachts.
The new taxes will go into effect on April 1, the state-run Xinhua News Agency announced.
45 Billion Served
Chinese diners currently use and discard some 45 billion pairs of chopsticks each year. The eat-and-toss process consumes more than 70 million cubic feet (2 million cubic meters) of timber annually, according to the Chinese finance ministry.
China (map) also exports chopsticksan additional 15 billion pairs annually to Japan and South Korea alone, according to Zou Hanru, a columnist at the state-run China Daily English language newspaper.
The demand for the utensils fuels an industry that sends millions of poplar, birch, and bamboo trees to the sawmill each year and employs about 60,000 workers, Zou writes.
Green Plate Special
China's fledgling environmental movement has targeted throwaway chopsticks for several years.
College students have petitioned campus cafeterias to replace them, and schoolchildren have written to Premier Zhu Rongji asking that the utensils be banned. Pop singers and other celebrities have lent their weight to the conservation campaign.
China's forests have disappeared at an alarming rate, and environmentalists warn that the populous nation's timber appetite has led to devastating clear-cut logging in Southeast Asian nations such as Myanmar (Burma) and Indonesia.
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