Many teddy bears in Ho Chi Minh City are stuffed with garment waste, discharged mattress, and old spongy materials, which doctors blamed as a major cause of respiratory diseases in children.
The products target workers and low-income earners, while retailers said cotton wool costs more and they wouldn't be able to make a profit, the Tuoi Tre weekly recently reported.
Hoc, a street vendor in the city, said he bought a cuddly worm from a supplier at VND40,000 (US$1.92) but he can resell it to customers at a price five times higher.
Another street vendor named Nam in front of Tan Tao Industrial Zone in Binh Tan District offers a cuddly dolphin at VND30,000, saying that it can be used as a pillow for many years without being broken.
But he also said as the price is cheap, and customers should not demand high quality for the stuffing.
"Cotton wool cannot have that price, whether natural or artificial," Nam said.
A cuddly toy factory run by Ut in the district stuffs the toys with a mixture of garment waste including cloth strings, scraps of fabric, pieces of soles, and dust.
The materials, which are stinky and musty, have been brought at VND2,000 a kilogram. Artificial cotton wool is sold in the market at no less than VND40,000 a kilogram.
"Only such waste materials can enable me to earn some profit," said Ut, who has been in the business for four years and delivers thousands of cuddly toys every month to Mekong Delta provinces.
A one-week investigation by the Tuoi Tre weekly early this month found nearly ten factories in HCMC using waste cloth and similar materials to stuff cuddly toys.
Thi, owner of a nearby factory, uses similar stuffing materials, plus old teddy bears and parts of helmets.
A worker at the factory said that she can stuff more than 200 cuddly toys a day.
Thi said "My cuddly toys sell at cheap prices. But retailers who buy at large amounts can earn double from resale to customers."
Another cuddly toy owner named Thanh in District 12 also retails his own products. Once he sold a teddy bear for VND500,000 while the cost is less than VND200,000.
Many retailers in the city take his products as the prices are competitive.
An Nhien cuddly factory in Go Vap District uses wool from old coats and old mattress discarded by user, which is bought from scrap collectors at VND20,000 a kilogram.
A worker at the factory said they would stuff the old "dirty" materials in the middle of the toy and put some new materials under the cover of the toy.
Yet Tien, the owner of the factory, said "This kind of stuffing can easily cause allergies."
Dieu Ngoc, a high school student from Binh Duong Province neighboring HCMC, said she got some allergies several days after holding a new teddy bear to sleep.
Thanh, owner of a quality teddy bear shop in the city, said people should cut their cuddly toys open if they have any health problems.
"Many people have done that to find out inside the toys was just garbage," she said.
Professor Le Huy Ba, head of the Institute of Science, Technology and Environment Management at HCMC University of Industry, said the garment waste can be toxic to human health and the environment.
Ba said the paint and plastic elements contained in the recycled waste can transform itself due to the environment and create new toxic chemicals that affect the users.
Doctor Nguyen Huu Duc from HCMC Medical University shared the opinions, saying that the stuffing method can cause sickness to the users, especially children.
"There've been many cases in which children get asthma and respiratory conditions after playing with cuddly toys," Duc said.
He suggested authorized agencies should pay more attention to the problem to restrain the business before it leads to more serious consequences.