Top Stories

Technology killed karung guni star

DYING TRADE: Those in the rag-and-bone trade are facing increasing competition from recycling and waste disposal firms, which are better able to cope with the rising costs of junk collection and removal.


    Jul 08, 2014

    Technology killed karung guni star

    EQUIPPED with a rubber horn and trolley, Mr Yap pounds the pavements nearly every day in search of HDB residents willing to part with their old and unwanted items for a minimal sum.

    Yelling "karung guniiii" at the top of his voice to alert residents to his arrival, the 61-year-old represents the old face of the rag-and-bone trade in Singapore.

    Now, they are few and far between.

    Instead, a new breed of junk collectors has emerged in the form of recycling and waste disposal firms.

    One such company is Junk To Clear, which provides services to not just residences and offices but also schools, malls and even shipyards.

    Armed with a website, Facebook page and ISO 14001 Environmental Management System certification, it is the firm's customers who contact it for its services and not the other way around.

    For a minimum fee of $80, customers can get a quotation of how much they would need to pay by sending photos of the items online prior to engaging the firm's services.

    For confidential documents, the firm will even issue a certificate of destruction to assure the customer that they have been disposed of securely.

    "Karung guni men collect only small items such as TV units, small home appliances and newspapers. They don't give a proper quotation for the items and invoice for documentation," said Wilson Lee, the firm's sales and client service manager.

    The company also collects recyclable junk from homes and offices across the island.

    No wonder, the traditional karung guni man is folding in the face of such competition. The rising cost of transportation is crushing him too.

    "We can't even afford the COE, how are we going to do our business?" said Mr Yap.

    Certificate of Entitlement (COE) prices for goods vehicles and buses, or Category C, have been inching upwards since 2010, with a record high of $76,310 in October last year.

    Since then, COEs for the category which includes lorries and vans have dipped but still remain above $30,000 this year.

    Add to that rising diesel prices, electronic road pricing (ERP) fees and parking charges, and it is clear why many in the trade are ready to pack up.

    On top of that, it is no longer easy to sell old items, especially electronics, said karung guni man Michael Satha, 45.

    Business has dropped by more than 50 per cent for Mr Satha, who mainly collects electronic items such as television sets and computers.

    He then exports the products to Indonesia and Nigeria but, in the past few years, buyers in these developing nations have become increasingly picky with the type of items they want.

    "Even the Third World nations want the latest products, such as LCD TVs and iPads, not the older models," he said.

    Recycling Point Dot Com founder Joseph Tan, who has a string of karung guni men scouring Singapore for him, said: "There is no new line of karung guni men and many of the current ones are getting older."

    Mr Tan added that many have to work part-time jobs as well as they do not earn enough as karung guni men.

    Mr Yap said: "It's hard to say how the rag-and-bone trade will look like in the future. But I think it's natural that there are fewer karung guni men now because there's less business for them."