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Why Do Seniors in Singapore Still Collect Cardboard Boxes
August 18, 2015 – 01:56 pm

Minister Tan Chuan-Jin interviews an 80-year-old cardboard collector. Photo from the widely shared Facebook post of the ministerThe plight of elderly cardboard-collectors has become a popular topic in Singapore over the past two weeks, after a government minister conducted a random street interview and concluded that some older people, struggling under various economic hardships, are in fact only collecting cardboard as a form of exercise.

Together with some youth volunteers, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin talked to some elderly cardboard-collectors two weeks ago and his reflections on Facebook. The story went viral, after many people accused the minister of simplifying the country’s poverty problem.

What did Tan Chuan-Jin write that provoked many to react strongly against him? First, he expressed doubt that cardboard collectors are financially-challenged:

The normal perception that all cardboard collectors are people who are unable to take care of themselves financially is not really true.

Second, he described cardboard-collecting as a form of exercise:

Some prefer to earn extra monies, treat it as a form of exercise and activity rather than being cooped up at home. They do this to remain independent, so that they can have dignity and not have to ask their families for help.

And third, he assumed that many people have a wrong perception about the elderly collectors:

More often than not, people make judgements without finding out the facts of the matter, in this instance, the stigma surrounding cardboard collectors.

Reactions on social media have been mostly critical about the minister’s interpretation of why older people feel the need to scour the streets for old cardboard, with many accusing the minister of being out of touch with reality. Sociologist Daniel PS Goh pointed out the official's error in “representing the truth without contextual and deeper interpretation.”

Many seniors are likely collecting cardboards because they want some exercise, desire independence AND so they can survive. That seniors collect cardboards because they seek exercise does not mean that they are not driven to it by poverty.

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