Think Before You Buy at Ukay-ukay
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Think Before You Buy at Ukay-ukay

What is frugal living? It is a living considering avoiding waste at all cost. Surplus stores houses many items like used bikes, appliances, office supplies and even truck engines. Truck surplus from Japan are running in Metro Manila as use for delivery trucks. Ukay-ukay houses mostly used clothing, shoes, bags and many more. But these store owners do not pay attention on the toxic that his/her items are carrying, for them, they are just doing business. The same as for the consumers, their only concern is to buy cheap products and live a frugal living, regardless of their health.


The word ukay-ukay means to look for or to dig into a pile of clothes or from a big container usually a box. Filipinos living from foreign countries habitually sends their used clothes or goods to their relatives in the Philippines via balik-bayan boxes (boxes carried by returning residences of the Philippines.) Other locals called it wagwagan which meant to shake the dust off used and old goods but still can be use.

Brief History

Over the years, ukay-ukay stores or second-hand stores, as the Spanish called it segunda-mano, mushroom the metropolis. It is popular because of the cheap prices of clothes. It is believed that it started in Cebu and Baguio and spread to Metro Manila and other provinces. But I had encountered the first eco-waste in Bambang market in Manila in the late 60s called relief goods. This is the first time I got a hold of an original Levis 501 jeans.


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These used clothes are coming from different countries like US as donation to refugees and victims of calamities. Later, Filipino overseas workers and Filipino residences of foreign countries started collecting used clothes (especially the branded ones) and goods before it landed on thrift shops or second-hand stores. Others purchase by bulk and import it to the country by containers, a potential big-business.

In Japan, once their electronic appliances got broken, they do not have it fix. They buy new ones and the old ones are consider surplus and sent here in the Philippines as Japan surplus. It is also their tradition that things belonging to a person who pass-away are not reusable and converted to be as surplus goods. This is why there are many Japan surplus stores containing household items.

Status of Ukay-ukay or Surplus Shops

Ukay-ukay has grown from just clothing to shoes, bags, blankets and comforters, and even second hand Christmas trees and other decorations from the US. There are thrift shops here only for baby that sells used baby products including baby strollers, toys and even umbrellas. Others also sell kitchen wares and kitchen items, like knives, mugs, spoons, forks and others that become a way of life for the frugal local residents.

But beware, those cheap kitchen goods one can find in ukay-ukay may not be a best-buy after all.

Environmental Warning

The environmental watchdog Eco Waste Coalition has reported that they detected high levels of toxic metal elements in the material used to make plates, mugs and food bowls that were sold in surplus stores across Metro Manila and provinces. The group warned buyers after their cross examination of 30 plus items from more than 10 different surplus stores in the Metro.

The environment conscious group tested the items using X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to found certain toxic metals that are above levels of concern that are detrimental to one’s health. The items are made in China, Japan, South Korea and US.

Some items contain a potent neurotoxin, over 100,000 (ppm) “ parts per million, others with cadmium “ a probable cancer causing element up to less than 4,000 ppm passing the US standard limit of 90 ppm for lead and 75 ppm for cadmium in user products.

According to EcoWaste Project Protect spokesperson, Aileen Lucero, they have detected harmful chemicals in the samples, like arsenic, chromium, antimony and in some cases are traces of mercury. Products used for eating and drinking must not contain any lead or other toxic metals because there is no level of exposure for these toxicants, she added. These toxicants can migrate out of these containers promoting chronic poisoning due to constant adjoin between the tainted container and the drinks or foods a person consumes.

Constant exposure to lead can damage reproduction system, behavioral and mental disorders which include inborn defects, minimal intelligence, speech problems, attention shortage disorder and other ailments such as low muscles coordination, high blood pressure and may destroy the kidneys and the brain.

A consumer must be safety conscious and should demand product safety information regardless of where the product is bought and must not rely only on the tempting cheap amount or one can end up on the high-price of cure. While the retailers who care for the health and safety of the consumers must immediately take the corrupted items off their stores.

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Comments (12)

I love thrift stores, but you have given me pause to think.

Many thanks Judy.

Great points. Normaly buying second hand is considered to be good for the environment and cheaper, however you have pointed out some risks of stores particularly in  your area.

That's good advice Ron. I know that when pots and pans are worn they tend to leach toxic compounds. So I imagine cooking with used Japanese pots and eating from worn plates would be dangerous.  

You have given the necessary warnings here in a well presented article. Thank you.

Nice article to get the word out to people!

Great job, kabayan, in featuring the infamous ukay-ukay..

Thanks for the kind comments and votes everyone - appreciated.

Sometimes the ukay-ukay sell smuggled goods which somehow escaped the customs. 

what an interesting article, thank you

Lately I've been avoiding thrift shops, especially the ones which sell food and baby toys. Thank you Ron.

A truly meaningful article. Thank you for writing this post, my friend.