Junk disposal firms find useful items in the discard heap

Some of the items karung guni collectors have picked up include spotless wallets from brands such as Michael Kors. Movers from waste disposal firm Junk To Clear removing an underused fitness machine from an apartment.
Some of the items karung guni collectors have picked up include spotless wallets from brands such as Michael Kors. Movers from waste disposal firm Junk To Clear removing an underused fitness machine from an apartment.ST PHOTOS: CALVIN YANG
Some of the items karung guni collectors have picked up include spotless wallets from brands such as Michael Kors. Movers from waste disposal firm Junk To Clear removing an underused fitness machine from an apartment.
Some of the items karung guni collectors have picked up include spotless wallets from brands such as Michael Kors. Movers from waste disposal firm Junk To Clear removing an underused fitness machine from an apartment.ST PHOTOS: CALVIN YANG
Electronic gadgets, such as camcorders and iPhones, are among the items that karung guni collectors have picked up as they go from door to door. Radios, watches and cameras are common finds too. Once in a while, they stumble upon gems such as a vinta
Electronic gadgets, such as camcorders and iPhones, are among the items that karung guni collectors have picked up as they go from door to door. Radios, watches and cameras are common finds too. Once in a while, they stumble upon gems such as a vintage Rolex watch. ST PHOTO: CALVIN YANG

Junk disposal firms say customers often discard valuable and useful items, including a Rolex watch

A pair of the latest Puma trainers, brand-new Hello Kitty toys and an apparently unused Louis Vuitton wallet are not what most people would throw away, but they are among the discarded items salvaged by junk disposal firms here.

Other finds include a functioning massage chair, a Rolex watch, a pre-war typewriter, antique furniture and collectable Lego sets.

Junk disposal companies - usually hired by people to remove unwanted items from homes - told The Straits Times that such finds are not uncommon.

Mr Wilson Lee, customer service manager at Junk To Clear, said his firm has collected new clothes, shoes and toys, some still in unopened packaging.

"We are amazed at what people can throw away. My guess is that people buy things on impulse," said the 40-year-old, whose company donates usable items to the needy or sends them for recycling.

"When things become useless for the owners, they become junk... even though they may still be useful to others."

Soiled mattresses, faulty television sets, well-worn sofas and rickety, termite-infested cabinets are all in a day's work for junk disposal workers.

DISPOSABLE CULTURE

We are amazed at what people can throw away. My guess is that people buy things on impulse. When things become useless for the owners, they become junk... even though they may still be useful to others.

MR WILSON LEE, customer service manager at Junk To Clear.

Other interesting finds included Formula One tyres, hot tubs, old arcade machines and even sex toys. 

Workers have even picked up - and returned - stacks of cash and sensitive documents, such as personal information and business records. 

Removal jobs can take 15 minutes to six hours.

When The Straits Times went with a team from Junk To Clear last week, two workers removed a fitness machine complete with weights, a plasma display panel and two televisions, among other things, from a third-floor apartment within 20 minutes.

Companies say that about 60 per cent of items in pristine condition are left behind by expatriates, who often relocate at short notice.

Others are from local residents with no space for them in their cramped homes.

Mr Colin Loy, managing director of BulkyWaste Removal, said it may be more convenient for expats to dispose of their furniture.

"It may cost more if they have to move the items to another place," added the 32-year-old, who has been in the business for six years and has salvaged antique display cabinets and cupboards.

Disposal fees start from about $50 and can go beyond $1,000, depending on factors such as location, number and type of items, and whether there are stairs to climb to reach the customer's unit.

  • 60%

  • Percentage of items in pristine condition that are left by expatriates, who often relocate at short notice.

  • $50

  • Starting fee for disposal, which could go beyond $1,000, depending on factors such as location, number and type of items, and whether there are stairs to climb to reach the customer's unit.

Junk disposal firms pick out items they deem usable to donate to charities. Some items are also sold to waste recycling firms or second-hand dealers.

Mr Irwan Mohamed Ali, director of moving company A Bros Communication, has received furniture such as bed frames, bookshelves and television consoles that looked just a few months old.

The 32-year-old, who has been in the business for about five years, donates them to needy families.

It is "a big waste" when people dispose of items in good condition, Mr Irwan said.

"Some Singaporeans tend to want new things, updating themselves with the latest trends...

"But if the items can still be used, they can donate them to the needy instead of throwing them away," he said.

Even karung guni collectors - who eke out a living by buying and reselling old newspapers, clothes and household appliances - have picked up fairly new items, many in decent condition.

These include leisure items from golf clubs to fishing rods to gadgets such as iPhones and GPS devices. 

A well-worn pair of Hush Puppies leather shoes can fetch $5.

A Swiss Army watch in good condition is marked higher, at $12.

These rag-and-bone men, who usually earn $500 to $600 a month, sometimes unknowingly resell valuable items at low prices in flea markets or online auctions.

Mr Koh Eng Khoon, chairman of the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods, said karung guni collectors occasionally chance upon antiques, which they later sell cheaply.

"When some elderly people pass on, their kids would sell the belongings they do not want to keep, including their antique collection," the 77-year-old said in Mandarin.

"Some vintage collectors are surprised when they see us selling such antiques at a bargain.

"It is only then that we realise the real value of such items."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2018, with the headline 'Saw an unused designer wallet thrown out?'. Print Edition | Subscribe