Turning trash into treasure

Turning trash into treasure

A new online 'freecycling' platform is catching on

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Kelvin Yip Ka-wing helps recycle unwanted items.
Kelvin Yip Ka-wing helps recycle unwanted items.
Photo: May Tse/SCMP
If you no longer need that half-used box of acrylic paints after submitting your art project, or that broken arm of the swivel chair in your bedroom, don't just throw them away.

Oh Yes It's Free, a new "freecycling" platform on Facebook, will help find your unwanted item a new home.

Donors give away unwanted goods for free, with people collecting them in person or paying for delivery.

If you don't have space for your "useless" items until they find a new owner, the group even has a 3,000 sq ft office in Kwai Chung, provided by activists from Nobanker Youth Commune.

In six months, the platform has been used by more than 31,000 people.

The last time Young Post checked online, everything from supermarket coupons to pricey Italian necklaces and white wedding gowns were being offered.

Founder Lam Yat-ching, a young environmentalist, says the concept of freecycling is not new. "It was popular among residents in public housing estates," she says. "A family would give milk bottles and baby clothes to neighbours when their children grew up."

It is important to take only what you need and to give away what you no longer use, says the Commune's Kelvin Yip Ka-wing. "There will be less greed in the world if we take turns to use each object," says the 21-year-old.

He adds that African folklore has it that gifts are tainted by evil spirits that will have a negative impact on your health if you do not give them away. "So unless the item is something you really need, you shouldn't buy it," he says. "Superstition aside, an apartment cluttered with unused items would be chaotic and unhygienic."

Charities such as The Salvation Army, Oxfam and Caritas run similar projects, but what sets Oh Yes It's Free apart is the fact that it is open to all, regardless of your income. It also accepts all sorts of goods, regardless of their condition. "We let the visitors judge," says Lam, who is happy as long as she can prevent another useful object ending up in a landfill.

The variety and the number of items at Kwai Chung is proof of how wasteful Hongkongers are, she adds. Toys, and massage and baby products are the most common.

The group once saw half a tonne of sea salt from Italy discarded because it had passed its sell-by date. Yip claims packaged food can sometimes last much longer than the time stated on the label. "That's because food nowadays is airtight and loaded with preservatives," he says.

Lam says there is a high demand for foam used to pack electronic items. "Artists use it as pincushions, while furniture repairers use it to fill chair pads," she says. "One person's trash really can be another's treasure."

Yip, a high-school graduate, jokingly calls himself a professional scavenger. He says that even without a salary, he could live a reasonably good life just by using things found on Oh Yes It's Free. He has taken away a pair of HK$2,000 trousers for free, along with a television, silk pyjamas and a packet of shark fin.

Even so, the two founders, who work full time on this green campaign, have to pay a monthly rent of HK$17,000 for the storage space. Luckily, many supporters make cash donations when they take away "free" items. The duo once received HK$1,000 from a visitor who took a bed. So far, the monthly contributions have helped cover most of the rent.

Visit the Oh Yes It's Free page at www.facebook.com/groups/395081687214913/

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