Green Dot Home carves a green profit out of unwanted furniture

Green Dot Home finds new owners for pieces people would otherwise throw away, like an Italian-brand sink worth HK$50,000

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 3:45am

Furniture recycler Alan Chuen Wai-lun received a call from a stranger one day asking him to come collect an unwanted bathroom sink. When Chuen saw it, he was surprised.

"It was totally brand new and still in a box. I had no idea what it was like when we took it away," he said. "But after we opened the box and did research about the sink, we found it was an Italian brand worth over HK$50,000."

Chuen is still scratching his head as to why anyone would want to dispose of an untouched luxury item. The sink now sits in his 3,000 square-foot warehouse in Kowloon Bay, along with more than 400 pieces of furniture - everyday pieces like chairs, sofas and cabinets - collected over the past three months.

Green Dot Home, founded by Chuen in collaboration with Friends of the Earth (HK), is a company aiming to build a self-sustainable model of reusing and recycling unwanted furniture.

Every Saturday, Chuen dispatches a team to collect furniture from donors, cleaning or repairing the items and then selling them at a profit or passing them to those in need.

In the past month, he has sold about 30 pieces, making a profit of about HK$10,000 after paying the wages for his two employees.

Other items sold include a round wooden table with a set of leather chairs originally worth HK$30,000. It sold for about HK$4,000.

Due to space and resource constraints, Chuen has been rejecting 80 per cent of requests from people who want to dispose of their furniture. And many pieces have a story behind them. A professional migrating from London shipped his sofa bed to the city but then found it couldn't fit in his new home. He sent it to Chuen.

Chuen collected a new bed mattress with the invoice and credit card receipt still affixed. The original buyer paid HK$4,000 for the mattress, but Chuen is selling it for about HK$900.

Another donor from West Kowloon asked him to remove all the new furniture from a property he had just sold. Chuen was told the furniture was set up in the 1,000 square-foot flat just to give the buyer an idea what it could look like.

Chuen not only takes furniture with a commercial value - he is also interested in sentimental or historical items. Among his collection is a Chinese three-seater wooden bench which the owners begged him to carefully take away and entrust it to someone credible.

"When I moved it down to the truck, the owners - brothers and sisters - shot photos continuously and acted as if they did not want to bid farewell to it," he said. The owners explained the seat had deep sentimental value as it fondly reminded them of someone.

Chuen said what made his operation different from other charities involved in furniture recycling was he would add value to the collected pieces, extending their usefulness.

"If you put them on the Web asking people to take them, there are always time limits. After that, the owners might have no choice but to throw them away."

Many of Chuen's customers are expatriates who are more willing than locals to use old furniture.

Friends of the Earth director for general affairs Edwin Lau Che-feng urged the government to provide more space at a nominal price for businesses like Chuen's. "The government can use space under flyovers for waste furniture storage. This will help ease the pressure on landfills," Lau said.