Ever wondered how much Singapore’s cardboard collectors earn? Spoiler: Too little.

A trolley of cardboard boxes, among other things. Photo: Happy People Helping People/Facebook
A trolley of cardboard boxes, among other things. Photo: Happy People Helping People/Facebook

Singapore may be a tiny island that climbed from a swamp into what some call the Switzerland of Southeast Asia. But amid the towering skyscrapers and about 200,000 millionaires that call it home, there are those who earn little from its distant margins – the cardboard collectors. 

They’re the people, mostly elderly, who collect all sorts of things, including cardboard boxes, which can be sold to big recycling firms for a few dollars. Receipts from their transactions show they are paid less than S$0.05 per kilogram of cardboard they collect. That’s as good as earning nothing for most of us. 

“The cardboard collectors in Ang Mo Kio today are comparing how much they received for their boxes today. Look at the receipts they receive from the Karung Guni Towkay,” read a Sunday Facebook post titled “How much do they earn today?” by the nonprofit Happy People Helping People.

“The price of the cardboard boxes have dropped to just 4 cents per kg. This is really sad,” the post added, referring to the payout by Tay Paper Recycling. The photos also show the three cardboard collectors mentioned in the caption looking at their receipts. 

Other receipts from the firm included in the post showed Tay Paper Recycling paying S$10.10 for more than 70kg of items, and S$3.45 for about 23kg. 

Cardboard collectors have been in Singapore for years despite many urging the government to do more to help those who have resorted to such work to survive. One government official drew backlash in 2015 after saying in a Facebook post that some were actually doing it for leisure and as a form of “exercise.”

In response to Sunday’s post, Singaporeans took to the comments to contribute ideas on ways to help alleviate the cardboard collectors’ plight. Others joined in the conversation to say they were sad that collectors earned so little, or took issue with the recycling firms for “rounding down” their pay.

“Just thinking out loud, instead of buying boxes for moving homes at $2 per pc from sellers, i gave $10 to the cardboard uncle for 10 carton boxes. Both of us were happy. For pp who need carton boxes, I think its [sic] much cheaper buying from these cardboard collectors, do consider!” a Serene Yan said. 

Another suggested they switch to collecting drink cans and bottles instead for placing them in the newly launched recycling vending machine, where they can earn S$0.20 supermarket coupons each.

Just saw a newly installed recycling machine at AMK Hub Mega NTUC supermarket where you get a discount voucher of S$0.20 for every 4 empty cans or water bottles deposited into the machine,” an Anne Chia said. 

A Sherry Lim said: “Why so cheap already still round down from 0.29¢ to 0.25¢ and not round up?”

More news from the Little Red Dot on Coconuts.co/Singapore

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