Don't dump, donate
Six-year-old Amy Lau received a Barbie interactive laptop computer worth HK$400 for her birthday. But the Grade One pupil already had a similar toy, so this one sat on top of a wardrobe until it was eventually thrown away during the annual Lunar New Year spring clean.
Amy's toy was one of thousands of games, soft and battery-operated toys and pieces of clothing to find their way to Hong Kong's rubbish dumps.
Crossroads International accepts high-quality goods Hongkongers no longer want and redistributes them to people in need around the world - from China and Africa to Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina and Lithuania. The organisation collects, or goods can be dropped off or delivered to its warehouse.
Spokesman David Begbie says Hong Kong's surplus can reach people in real need. 'In our experience, there never seems to be enough humanitarian dollars to meet need around the world. But things can be used to displace the need for money,' he says.
'I'm frequently amazed when I see 100-piece toy farm sets that come in new, brand-new telescopes still in their packaging, drum kits, violins, trumpets, large inflatable children's swimming pools. One brand-new Gor-Tex ski suit was donated simply because it was last season's style - but when you have children living in minus 40 degree temperatures, that's a lifesaver.'
There are countless heart-wrenching stories of local shipments relieving dire need. In one case, a Hong Kong shipment of used clothes and toys brought a dramatic change in the lives of children at an orphanage in the Balkans. Before, they wore prison-like striped uniforms and had no toys at all. The Hong Kong goods meant that, for the first time in their lives, the orphans had their own clothes and toys. In another instance, a brand-new US$20,000 playground set from a Hong Kong donor brought joy to a northern Uganda centre catering for thousands of orphans and child war victims who previously had no play equipment.
Out of respect for recipients, Crossroads does not accept broken toys or ones with missing pieces. Battery-operated toys will only go to children who have access to batteries. 'We don't receive or ship any war-related toys. Often, the children to whom we are sending toys are victims of war or violence. The last thing they need is a painful reminder.'
Crossroads accepts only new stuffed toys, as used ones are 'virtually impossible to decontaminate' and it is risky to send them to children who may already have low immunity.
According to Mr Begbie, Hong Kong doesn't have a thriving second-hand industry and people often find themselves wanting to dispose of things in a humanitarian way, but finding the mechanism to do so lacking.
Crossroads struggles to handle all the goods it receives and has 280 containers of surplus items in stock, although it sends out a 40-foot container every week.
The Salvation Army's Hong Kong and Macau Command accepts clean and well-maintained children's toys and clothes as part of its recycling programme. The organisation has 130 to 140 collection points across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories.
Simon Wong Kwok-ching, the Salvation Army's community relations director, says the Salvation Army frequently receives good brand-name clothes, computer toys and Japanese games. Some are brand-new unwanted gifts. After sorting, usable clothes and toys go to the Salvation Army's service centres to be given out to the needy. Some go to its Family Stores across Hong Kong and profits are used for charity. Oversupplies are sold to hawkers.
Stuffed toys are hard to clean and Mr Wong asks that donors have them sterilised before dropping them off. Other toys should be placed individually in plastic bags for easy sorting.
Caritas also collects used clothes and toys. Head of youth and community services Frederick Lai Wing-Hoi says: 'We are not that choosy, but we do ask that donated toys are cleaned first.' Caritas gladly accepts English-language children's books. 'In the past two months, we received 5,000 magazines, some toys and more than 400 story books.' Caritas operates a number of second-hand shops.
Friends of the Earth recycles used clothes, donating some to local underprivileged people, but exporting most to developing countries. Environmental affairs manager Hahn Chu Hon-keung says that in Hong Kong so-called old clothes are often quite new and lots of new children's clothes are dumped every year.
'Parents should think twice before they buy. Most Hong Kong children don't lack toys or clothes - they have too much.' Alternatively, he suggests, unwanted clothes should be given to friends instead of being thrown away.
Oxfam has two shops in Hong Kong accepting donations, including children's clothes and toys. Connie Lee, manager of its Tsim Sha Tsui-based shop, says the organisation accepts small toys, children's clothes and books, as long as they are clean and in a good condition.
Christian Action collects new and used children's clothes and toys to distribute to the poor. It also holds regular flea markets, where goods are sold to support charitable causes. The Po Leung Kuk accepts educational toys and new clothes, while New Territories-based Straw Action accepts clothes and educational toys.
The Conservancy Association also accepts used clothes (and bed sheets, curtains, towels, shoes, handbags and 'plush toys'), while the Tuen Mun Youths Association's Road to Green Scheme takes new and used clothes and toys.
So, next time you're about to throw out that unwanted toy, think twice.
When donating, make sure:
Toys are clean and unbroken. Toys that have to be assembled have all their pieces. Items are placed individually in separate bags. Soft toys have been laundered and are offered straight from the laundry in plastic bags. Clothes are clean and in good condition
Caritas 28434694, www.caritas.org.hk Christian Action 27168778, www.christian-action.org.hk Crossroads International 29849309, www.crossroads.org.hk Friends of the Earth 25285588, www.foe.org.hk Oxfam Silver Court, Tsim Sha Tsui, 27301666; Jardine House, Central, 25221765 Po Leung Kuk 22778158, www.poleungkuk.org.hk Straw Action 26681018 The Conservancy Association 27286781, www.conservancy.org.hk The Salvation Army 23324431, www.salvation.org.hk The Tuen Mun Youths Association 24533010, firstname.lastname@example.org