April 7, 2008

inSingapore: Talking Trash

Posted in Travel and Culture tagged , , , at 9:22 am by myrlinn

The days of the karang guni’ man may just be numbered.

As Singapore develops, there are probably less local people willing to do the job.

And, even more ominous, they now face competition from the big boys. In the area near my home (and at least a couple of other areas in the west of Singapore), they now have ‘Cash for Trash’ collection centres operated by a large waste management company.

I imagine the one near my home to be fairly typical of these collection centres. They set up ‘shop’ every Sunday morning at the  void deck of a block of flats. It’s all rather professional. There are large signboards displaying the details of the programme, the name of the company, and a prominent one with prices for different types of trash. Yesterday when I went, they also had a ‘Care for the Environment’ standee to encourage recycling.

The person running the collection centre wears a company t-shirt, which helps make it all seem more above-board. And they have a system — weigh your trash, record it in a notebook, and give you your money.

The price of trash?
$1.50/kg for aluminium cans
$0.14/kg for paper
$0.10/kg for glass/tin
$0.05/kg for bottles
$0.20/kg for old clothes

I don’t know about other collection centres, but the one near my home seems to be doing a brisk business. I’ve been there a few times the last few weeks (because I’ve been sorting through and throwing out old stuff), and each time, I see a steady stream of people dropping by with newspapers, old clothes, electronic items, etc.  Not surprising, really. There’s the convenience. You don’t have to listen out for the karang guni man every time you have some trash to get rid of. And then there’s the fact that there’s a price list, so you know you’re not being short-changed. Not that you get much (as you can tell from the price list) but they make you feel good for bringing your trash all the way there by tying it all up with an environmental message (Yay for you! You’re helping the environment by bringing your old stuff for recycling!).

So next time you see a karang guni man, dragging along his trolley, spare him another glance, because he just may be ‘extinct’ a few years from now.



  1. norman neo said,

    At any one saturday or sunday, you can see as many as 5 or more karang guni people in their pick-ups plying the street where I live near you. Usually, I get them to dispose of the old newspapers, or the odd fridge or VCR and I get paid for it, how much they will decide (usually pittance), and I’ve never haggled for a higher price with them. There must be quite a good money in it for them to survive until now, but like you say, they’re a dying breed…

  2. myrlinn said,

    They go round in pick-ups? But I guess in your area, that makes sense. I can’t imagine them making that much from just collecting newspapers. I’m guessing that they’re now earning a lot of money from collecting electrical items. The karang guni man never fails to ask us if we have any TV, mobile phones, etc. to sell. Actually, that’s where the karang guni man has the advantage over the Trash for Cash kiosk. The Trash for Cash kiosk weigh them as metal or plastic, so you get very very little. Whereas if you’ve got a working TV, for example, the karang guni man may give you a bit more.

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