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The collectors The 'manager' The 'weigher' The collection point

Mr Thirumal Nathan, 44, who manages the cardboard collection point at Clive Street, off Serangoon Road, stands proudly beside the wall of flattened cardboard boxes.

He moves between 5 tonnes and 7 tonnes daily to recycling plants and pays out 9 cents for each kilogramme of used cardboard. "For most of the people who sell their cardboard to us, this is the only work they can do at their own pace.

"These elderly people may have sons who are doctors or top civil servants, but they still want to be independent and earn their own money. These people don't like it if their children find out about their sideline jobs.

"Some are so protective of their cardboard that they do not allow you to touch them. They prefer to unload the cardboard themselves even when we offer to help."

Widower Tan Kim Seng, 80, takes a breather and drinks up his soft drink after hauling in the night's load of cardboard scavenged from the streets and alleys in the vicinity of Serangoon Road.

He says: "I make barely enough. My drink costs about $1.50 and this trip I made about $5. But it's good enough for me. I have no children to support me. I reach my home in Lavender Street at about 3am. By 6am, I'm awake and I start looking for cardboard again."

Mr Lock Lee Jin, 50

, sits on his trusted China-made weighing scale. He is the man who weighs all the cardboard that is sold to him.

He has been in this business for five years and sees as many as 50 people dropping off recyclables at his collection point each day at Veerasamy Road.

He says in Malay: "I have seen sad cases like this 80-year-old woman who still comes to me to sell cardboard. Her son doesn't give her enough for her to live comfortably. How can you do that to any elderly woman? But thankfully, this woman still has the strength and will to support herself."

Mr Tay Tee Tee, 62, can haul more "cargo" with his trike. The trike can carry between 70kg and 80kg of cardboard each time. He makes between $20 and $25 a day, surviving on a hand-to-mouth existence.

He says in Malay: "If I don't work, I don't get to eat. I'm single and there's nobody to look after me. Falling sick means I don't earn any money for that day. I take (scavenge for cardboards) only when people give sincerely. I don't steal and I don't need much to survive each day. I don't complain because I can still find work here in Serangoon Road."

Stacked to the brim. At the Clive Street collection point, a worker loads and flattens cardboard before the lorry takes the load to a recycling plant, where it is sold for double the price. Mr Thirumal Nathan says that he buys the cardboard for 9 cents per kg and sells it for 18 cents.

The collectors work hard for what little they get and can make many journeys in one day.

In a span of five hours, one camera-shy woman had successfully returned to the Veerasamy Road and Clive Street collection points at least four times with loads of cardboard boxes.

We do not know her name, but we know she is a hard worker who starts scavenging for cardboard in the afternoon till late at night.

We had asked this woman, seen feeding pigeons somewhere at a lane near Hindoo Road, if she knew where journalist Zaihan Mohamed Yusof could find cardboard boxes. She simply shrugged.

But it is hard to fault with somebody for not helping because in the cardboard collection business, everybody is your rival. The supermarket cart beside her is one of the ways to transport used cardboard boxes.