Hong Kong and Singapore have a significant number of cardboard collectors who are mostly elderly people, struggling to make a small income by selling to recyclers. There are between 4,000 and 7,000 cardboard collectors in Hong Kong and in Singapore, 23% of people over 65 had incomes of less than $700 per month. Nonetheless, there is good news as several organizations are helping cardboard collectors in Asia improve their well-being.
Youth with a Mission (YWAM)
YWAM (pronounced “WHY-wham”) is a global Christian family of ministries founded in 1960 working in more than 180 countries. Hong Kong’s YWAM chapter has launched “Shine Hong Kong,” which focuses on providing cardboard collectors with Shine Hong Kong Kits of helpful items including masks, hand sanitizer, food coupons and muscle balm. In addition to providing the collectors with the kits, the organization’s focus is for volunteers to interact with the collectors and show dignity and respect to a group of people who often go unnoticed.
Unlike YWAM, a global NGO, Border Mission is a small-scale organization. Founded by George Goh Ching Wah and Lysa Sumali, Border Mission operates in Singapore and in the Himilayas. Similar to YWAM, Border Mission strives to bring “hope to the unreached and forgotten.”
Border Mission observed that the cardboard collectors in Singapore, whom they call “urban recyclers,” struggle from receiving low prices for what they sell to recyclers. It views them as self-employed, hard-working seniors who deserve outside support. That’s why it launched its island-wide “Urban Recycler Project” in 2020. The NGO not only provides urban recyclers with better trolleys but also educates them on selling different types of recyclable materials. The organization also advocates for higher prices for the recyclers’ collections. Its 1,000 youth volunteers delivered 100 four-wheel trolleys and one tricycle trolley in 2021.
V Cycle, a local Hong Kong social enterprise, works with businesses and schools to teach them how to better reduce and recycle waste, particularly plastic bottles. In addition to helping the environment, the organization also attempts to reduce elderly poverty by helping cardboard collectors. It focuses on conducting care visits and creating job opportunities for cardboard collectors.
Visiting elderly cardboard collectors is a step for volunteers to gain the elderly’s trust and build relationships with them. During each visit, volunteers ask the elderly about their physical and mental health, as well as the difficulties that they encounter. That way, V Cycle can tailor solutions to each person’s needs.
To create employment opportunities, V Cycle invites the elderly to work at the organization’s waste plants to organize and process plastic bottles. This allows the elderly to work in a safe and secure environment.
Happy People Helping People (HPHP)
Like its name, Happy People Helping People (HPHP), this Singaporean NGO helps needy elderly; happily and enthusiastically. HPHP is helping cardboard collectors by offering them food and friendship. In turn, this addresses the physical and emotional needs of the elderly. Founded by Mohammad Nafiz Kamarudin in 2013, the organization began with Happy Sundays; during the first Sunday of each month, volunteers made meals for the cardboard collectors. Then the organization realized that the cardboard collectors needed more so they worked with food stalls to provide one hot meal a day. HPHP now provides free hot meals to cardboard collectors using an app, Secondmeal.
Invented by a HPHP staff member, the app allows the needy elderly to collect the meals of their choice at food stalls participating in the project by scanning the meal cards provided to them each month. HPHP then pays for amounts shown on the app system at the end of each month. According to the founder of HPHP, Mohammad Nafiz Kamarudin, the elderly collect over $10,000 worth of meals every month. With Secondmeal, the elderly receive help in a dignified way.
Looking Forward: Helping Cardboard Collectors in Asia
It is common for impoverished elderly to become cardboard collectors in Hong Kong and Singapore. To address the issue, the four organizations helping cardboard collectors do so by making life easier for them in different ways. For instance, while YWAM distributes Shine Hong Kong care kits to the elderly, HPHP offers hot meals for them. Border Mission provides them with better trolleys and V Cycle volunteers conduct care visits. Nonetheless, each of these organizations shares the same belief and aim: cardboard collectors in Asia are a disadvantaged and neglected group that more able people can help.
– Mimosa Ngai