Treasure in the trash

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First published on 21 Apr 2008.

One man’s junk might be another man’s jewels, so even if you don’t have recycling bins, you can still call on the neighbourhood karang guni man to come collect, writes Marguerita Tan

Though their numbers have dwindled in recent years with competition from the waste-disposal companies, you can still hear a rag-and-bone man a mile away. Their loud cries of ‘ka-raaang gu-nnnni!’ will pierce the morning calm; even louder are their rubber horns, which can be an unwelcome wake-up call if you had a late night. 

Balancing act - Karang guni men make a living buying - and transporting - your old possessions, no strings attached

As their ranks decrease, the original recyclers’ standards have risen – most karang guni men won’t collect newspapers any more because of shrinking profit margins; prices for waste paper have fallen drastically because of more local recycling options. In fact, some ‘uncles’ will only pick up electronic items such as TV sets, computers and radios, which bring in more cash. My regular karang guni uncle, who just wants to be known as Mr Toh, is one of the rare ones who will still collect ‘all kinds of paper’ as he goes from door to door in Queenstown. But he also pays $5 for old computers, $10-$30 for branded hi-fi sets and $5-$50 for TV sets, depending on brand and condition. He makes about $3-$5 profit from each sale, which he claims is more than what he makes from selling used newspapers. 

Still, there are certain items the 51-yearold will not take. ‘I don’t collect fridges as they are too heavy, nor watches or tape recorders as they are not saleable,’ he explains in Mandarin. ‘Even computers can be too old – those with flat screens are more in demand. I don’t even collect old clothes any more. Overseas poor people can be quite picky!’ Karang guni men who work alone do not make much money selling their collections to dealers in waste paper and second-hand goods (which can result in a sometimes cranky ‘ka-raaang gu-nnnni’). That is why some greenminded people such as Carol Lau, 30, are more than happy to donate reusable stuff to rag-and-bone men. 

‘When our office was on Amoy Street, my colleagues and I recycled stuff on a regular basis and reserved the unwanted magazines, junk mailers, envelopes and other used cardboard paper for our karang guni uncle,’ says the sales executive. ‘He usually hangs around with other karang guni folks at the junction of Amoy Street and Cross Street and would come around every month when we have accumulated a pile. We’d also given him old computer parts, a used electric kettle and even an old fax machine. It was a winwin situation: he gets to earn money and we get to recycle stuff.’ When freelancer Sandy Chen, 43, was packing up to move, she was not only thrilled to find karang guni men who would buy her unwanted items, but offered moving services as well. ‘They only charged me $180 for the “moving” after I agreed to sell them two relatively new TV sets,’ she says. 

Karang guni man Ng Ah Huat, 45, and his associate work primarily in areas where there are en bloc flats – usually Queenstown and Bukit Merah. ‘You don’t make a lot of money in this business and that’s why we double up as movers as well,’ he says in Mandarin. ‘We take newspapers, clothes, VCDs and big items such as TV sets, washing machines, even antique furniture.’ Oh, and he would also pay $8-$10 for an unused bottle of VSOP brandy. 

If – despite the shouting and the honking – you still can’t catch a karang guni man at your doorstep, you can locate one online. For second-hand dealer Barang Guru (, fax or email them a list of items you want to sell; the buyers will make a house call to check out how much your stuff is really worth. Once a deal has been reached, they will carry your stuff away at no extra charge and the items will be put on sale at their store located along Sungei River. They’ll invest in hardware that’s in good working condition, such as home-theatre systems, computers (Pentium II and above), hi-fi sets and DVD/VCD players. There is also Rag and Bone Services (, which claims to be ‘Singapore’s first online karang guni’, and offers 24-hour collection services and cash-on-collection. Of course, you can always sell your unwanted stuff at a garage sale or online at prices you are happy with. But if you want instant cash and minimum hassle, just call – or email – the good old karang guni man. 

Spring-cleaning? Save your stash for a second-hand store 

Cash Converters
This second-hand store will hand over instant cash for any items in ‘working condition and that have a resale value’. Not everything makes the cut, though – they draw the line at books, clothing or big pieces of furniture. But electronic devices, household appliances, musical instruments, jewellery, sporting goods, CDs, VCDs and DVDs are most welcome. There are five stores located in Ang Mo Kio, Bedok North, Jurong East, Punggol Plaza and Toa Payoh. 
Charity thrift stores 
Donate to non-profit organisations with thrift shops. The Salvation Army ( has seven collection bins island-wide; items are sold at Red Shield Industries family thrift shops. The Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations ( also has a New 2 U Thrift Shop, where funds raised go towards a crisis shelter for victims of family violence and those in need of protection, while MINDS (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore, has a Treasure MINDS store where members learn to arrange sale items and serve customers. For other recycling resources, visit the Singapore Environment Council website at
Gramophone music stores 
( Sell your used CDs, VCDs and DVDs at Gramophone’s UOB Centre (#03- 01) and The Cathay (#01-22/23/24) outlets. Depending on condition and demand, rates range from $1-$3 for CDs and $3-$7 for DVDs. 
Second-hand stores
( Second-hand bookstores are dwindling but other stores dealing in ‘preowned’ bags, watches and vintage clothes are proliferating, such as Cavallino (#01-45 Tanglin Shopping Centre), Eminent Watches (77 Geylang Rd) and The Attic Place (#04-01 Far East Shopping Centre).


By Marguerita Tan
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