But condom recycling is not uncommon among sex workers, especially in developing countries, experts say.
“It’s not impossible to wash a condom,” said Juliet Richters, sexual health expert and honorary professor at the University of New South Wales. But “this has never happened, to my knowledge, on an industrial scale,” she said.
Prof Richters said they would be difficult to recycle without equipment to roll up and repackage condoms to pass them off as new. She said the impact of boiling condoms on their integrity was not clear.
In 2007, Chinese doctors warned against using rubber bands made from used condoms, as they could spread HIV – the virus that causes AIDS – and other sexually transmitted diseases.
A representative from Binh Duong’s health ministry said health officials had not received any information from provincial authorities or requests for assistance in the investigation. Tran Van Tung, an official from Binh Duong, said that since this was the province’s first knowledge of used condoms being recycled for sale, authorities should clearly define their legal case.
Binh Duong province, outside of Ho Chi Minh City’s southern trading center, is littered with industrial zones where factories manufacture consumer goods for export and domestic consumption. In 2014, workers torched dozens of foreign factories in the province as part of a wave of protests against China’s parking of an oil rig in disputed waters off the Vietnamese coast.
Chau Doan reported from Hanoi, Vietnam, and Livia Albeck-Ripka from Darwin, Australia. Mike Ives contributed reporting from Hong Kong.