Rise in Chopstick Prices Taking a Bite Out of Eateries

Chae Chun Lee, the owner of Taiyo Ramen, checks his envoice for chopsticks.
Chae Chun Lee, the owner of Taiyo Ramen, checks his envoice for chopsticks.

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Deforestation concerns in China leads to a five-percent tax on disposable wooden chopsticks there. Chinese chopstick exporters have responded to this increase by raising chopstick prices by 30%. An additional 20% increase is pending.

It's not good news for eateries here in Hawaii who offer wooden utensils.

Chae Chun Lee, the owner of Taiyo Ramen says his establishment goes through a whopping 3600 to 700 disposable wooden chopsticks a day.

"Right now, high price for chopstick," says Lee.

Lee is worried about the chopstick tax in China. That's where all of his chopsticks are from. Lee's seen the price dramatically rise over the years.

"Thirteen years I open business, a case of chopsticks was $16 to $17. Now after 10 years, it's $37 to $38.

And the price is only going to keep going up.

"It's going to get passed on to the customer, one way or the other," says patron Brion Chang.

Lunchtime regular Brion Chang is not surprised. But he's not ready yet to give up his wooden chopsticks.

"That's local style. Everybody uses wooden chopsticks," says patron Scott Komatsu.

When a pair of chopsticks doesn't separate properly, customers will ask for another one. Usually it's no big deal to the customer, but for businesses, that's money being thrown away.

"Maybe wooden chopstick price go up, maybe we use plastic chopstick," says Lee.

Lee's had his ups-and-downs in his 13-years as a restaurant owner. He hopes he has enough luck to stay in business 13-years more.

The move is hitting the Japanese hard. They use 25-billion sets of wooden chopsticks a year. To minimize the impact, importers are looking at alternatives, like bamboo chopsticks.