OBAMA, Fukui -- A company in central Japan is recycling broken baseball bats into chopsticks in consideration of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and using part of the profits from the sales to nurture forests of "aodamo," or Japanese ash -- which the bats are made from.
Long-established chopsticks manufacturer Hyozaemon Co., headquartered in the city of Obama, Fukui Prefecture, collects broken bats from the baseball community, including Japanese professional and corporate teams, for recycling in its "Kattobashi!! Project."
"In conjunction with other parties, we have been successful enough to create a cycle that protects aodamo," said the company's chairperson Hyogo Uratani, 76. "When we work on something that genuinely pleases others, it's considered part of the SDGs, right?"
In Japan, professional leagues and other groups go through around 200,000 baseball bats annually. Meanwhile, as it is said to take 60 to 70 years for one aodamo -- a flexible and elastic broad-leaved tree -- to grow enough to be used for bats, protecting and nurturing aodamo forests in decline has become a big issue.
Therefore, Hyozaemon has started recycling discarded and damaged bats into chopsticks, and uses part of the proceeds for purposes including planting aodamo trees through a nonprofit organization. Some 10,000 to 20,000 of the used bats are collected annually in Japan, which are then brought to the company. From each of those bats, four to five pairs of chopsticks are apparently made.
Uratani, who himself was an enthusiastic baseball player at Fukui Prefectural Wakasa High School, said that he had been questioning chopsticks' status quo of being produced simply to sell well. He became involved in activities to promote the manufacturing and culture of chopsticks with the belief that he had to make hearty "genuine" ones, instead of those that just sold well. During this time, he learned that aodamo tree resources are decreasing.
The project was launched around 2000. Uratani explained that initially there were concerns over if the project would be successful. He said, "I was asked, 'Will chopsticks made from baseball bats make money?' and told, 'You don't have to try too hard if it's not profitable.'" However, his company kept going and took several years to gain cooperation from baseball teams. The project is now gathering great attention, and has been featured on the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association's website.
Baseball bats used by famous players are piled up in Hyozaemon's warehouse.
"The entire baseball community favors creating aodamo forests, and bat makers have also got onboard," Uratani said with a smile. "We are connected with the environment through chopsticks. I think that, apart from chopsticks, being conscious about 'connections' (between the environment) and respective fields can also be considered efforts to achieve the SDGs."
Chopsticks made through the "Kattobashi!! Project" are on sale at stores including Hyozaemon's outlets and its online shop at http://hyozaemon.shop-pro.jp (in Japanese).
(Japanese original by Riki Iwama, Fukui Bureau)