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Joanne Dafoe, president of ChopValue YYC, displays a crib board and cutting board made out of chopsticks in the warehouse at ChopValue YYC in Calgary.Photos by Leah Hennel/The Globe and Mail

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Calgary landscape designer Joanne Dafoe began searching for a fresh challenge – something that would allow her to make a difference.

“As I sat there day after day, I started reevaluating where I was in life and what my story was,” she said. “I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and I wondered if there was something more out there I wanted to accomplish.”

Through a friend, Ms. Dafoe heard about ChopValue, a company in Vancouver that was collecting used chopsticks from restaurants and turning them into high-quality home decor. Soon, she was on a plane to B.C. to study ChopValue’s manufacturing processes. There, she met with founder Felix Bock, a woodworking engineer who had spent the past four years developing products and was ready to start franchising.

Top: Joanne Dafoe, president of ChopValue YYC, left, and Darren Singleton sort chopsticks into the shaker table. Bottom: Darren Singleton sorts chopsticks after they are dipped into a water-based resin.

He offered Ms. Dafoe a chance to become the company’s first franchisee. It was then she knew she had found her calling.

“They were one of the lucky businesses thriving during the pandemic,” she said. “And they were not only prospering, they were making a difference.”

Ms. Dafoe launched ChopValue YYC in November, 2020. The franchise has since grown to seven staff members, who collect around 120,000 bamboo chopsticks a week from 85 Calgary-area businesses. The chopsticks, which would otherwise be destined for landfills, are instead taken to a warehouse, where they are sorted, cleaned, soaked in water-based resin and dried overnight. They are then pressed and manufactured into household items like coasters, charcuterie boards, countertops, feature walls and crib boards.

Joanne Dafoe, left, says the business has been a dream come true.

“We’re garbage collectors,” Ms. Dafoe said. “One of the phrases we use is: ‘Waste to resource.’ That’s exactly what it is. What was once going in the garbage, we’re treating as gold because that’s our raw material to run this business.”

The pandemic and the economic downturn in Calgary’s oil sector have presented some challenges for the city’s restaurants, which in turn has made chopsticks more difficult to come by. ”Every time a restaurant closes down, our supply is less,” Ms. Dafoe said.

But she said the business has continued to be a dream come true. “I think I just started living, to be honest. I realize that you can be fulfilled and do something good at the same time.”

Top: A chess board made out of chopsticks in the warehouse at ChopValue YYC. Bottom: A crib board and cutting board made out of chopsticks.

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