Giving lost items a new purpose benefits consumers

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Bags and pouches made by Mondo Design Co. using plastic umbrella panels are seen in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

Clever are the entrepreneurs who have figured out how to tap into the bottomless well of unclaimed lost items found on trains and buses. Some of these items are refashioned to increase their value, while others are sold at discount prices. Either way seems to benefit consumers without adding pressure on the supply chain.

In late October, unusual tote bags and pouches caught my eye at a store of the lifestyle brand O0u (pronounced oh-zero-you) in Tokyo.

The items, made out of used plastic umbrellas, appeared durable, resistant to rain and dirt, and washable in addition to being attractive.

Mondo Design Co., a Tokyo-based bag maker, buys used plastic umbrellas, most of which were lost on trains and unclaimed beyond the railway companies’ retention periods. The company repurposed about 30,000 umbrellas in 2021 alone.

The umbrellas are first disassembled, and then their plastic panels are cleaned, stacked in layers and pressed before being sewn into something new.

The resulting tote bags and pouches are priced at around ¥5,000 to ¥15,000 each. Because they have unique designs with different patterns and textures, they are well received, especially by women in their 20s and 30s.

“Although it takes much time and labor to make them, we are working on it while being aware of environmental issues,” said an employee of the company in charge of publicity.

Railway companies have also begun to get in on the action.

In the past, Tokyu Corp. in Tokyo discarded many of the unclaimed lost properties after retaining them for certain periods. The amount of these items reached about 25 tons in fiscal 2020.

In December last year, the railroad formed a partnership with Bookoff Corp., a major second-hand goods retailing company headquartered in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture. Today, at some Bookoff stores, Tokyu sells books, earphones, watches, bags, and other items, for which Tokyu acquired ownership of after their retention periods were over.

In June, Tokyu Bus Corp. started to follow suit.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Bookoff Corp. employees in Ranzan, Saitama Prefecture, sort unclaimed lost items whose retention periods expired.

Naoko Kuga of the NLI Research Institute, who specializes in consumer behavior, said, “With commodity prices rising, people are becoming more and more interested in the second-hand market.

“In addition to flea market apps and recycling stores, the increasing availability of unclaimed lost items in the secondhand goods market is beneficial to consumers,” Kuga added.