Chopsticks Tax to Target China's Hunger for Timber

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The Chinese government once promoted the use of disposable chopsticks as a way to improve health conditions. If the policy flip-flop is successful, some medical challenges could reappear.

"Hepatitis is a problem. A lot of restaurants in China today are just small places that don't necessarily have dishwashers or even a lot of access to hot water," said Jennifer Turner, coordinator of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

"There's a hygiene question, and that's a toughie," Turner said.

"In addition to the tax, maybe they also need to introduce a campaign, as [Chinese nongovernmental organization] Friends of Nature has, where people are encouraged to carry their own chopsticks," she added.

"Maybe that sounds kind of dopey, but I think that they may need that kind of campaign as well if they want to give people an alternative."

BBC journalists reported mixed feedback Wednesday from the streets and restaurants of Shanghai.

"It's no use, people will still throw it everywhere after they have their food, and people will still buy disposable chopsticks," one person told the BBC.

Another consumer had a more positive outlook: "It has some good impact. It will make people buy less disposable products and buy more durable ones."

Still another Shanghai citizen wondered who would foot the bill. "I think the shop owner should pay for it," he told the BBC.

It seems likely that many small restaurant owners will pass the added cost on to their customers.

China's growing middle class certainly won't balk at the modest extra expense, but the tax's greatest value could lie in environmental education.

"It's good that the campaign is raising awareness about China's timber problem," the Wilson center's Turner said.

"Chinese citizens, like many of us, do need to be better educated about the environment."

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