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It's clean up after yourself at new hawker centres

Tray-clearing stations will soon be as common as packets of tissue papers placed on tables to reserve seats at food centres. -TNP
Linette Heng

Fri, Sep 14, 2012
The New Paper

A man looking for a table while holding his food at Albert Food Centre along Albert Street.

Tray-clearing stations will soon be as common as packets of tissue papers placed on tables to reserve seats at food centres.

The 10 upcoming hawker centres will be designed with tray-return facilities.

Selected hawker centres will also be retrofitted with these facilities by the last quarter of this year, with the cooperation of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM).

Such facilities will eventually be rolled out to all 107 hawker centres under the National Environment Agency (NEA).

These new measures were announced by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament on tuesday.

This was in response to Member of Parliament for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Denise Phua's question about the shortage of cleaners in food centres.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "We also need to encourage patrons of hawker centres to reduce the reliance on cleaners by returning their used crockery and utensils in order to speed up the cleaning process."

But will these tray-clearing campaigns work?

The NEA, The Straits Times and the SKM ran tray-clearing campaigns in 2003, 2005 and 2010, but with little success.

Cleaning companies which spoke to The New Paper welcomed the move, but think it will be a challenge to get people to clear their used utensils.

Ms Sharon Kee, project director of Horsburgh Engineering, a company which hires about 100 cleaners, was involved in a previous initiative to get diners to clear their trays at Zion Riverside Food Centre in 2003.

Ms Kee recounted: "We were scolded when we asked people to take their utensils to the tray-clearing station.

"We don't have this culture of clearing up after ourselves. Kids have to return their utensils in school canteens, but at home, their parents won't insist that they do so and they have helpers."

'Struggling to hire people'

The boss of a cleaning company, which hires about 1,000 to 1,500 cleaners and is in charge of clearing nine hawker centres, said: "We are struggling to hire people. To tackle the crowd at peak hours, getting people to clear their own trays is definitely a good idea because it will decrease the pressure on the cleaners.

"But if initiatives to encourage people are not effective, maybe there should be a penalty instead."

Food guru KF Seetoh thinks that tray-clearing initiatives should be implemented not just because there are not enough cleaners.

He maintained: "It should be a matter of civic-mindedness."

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that it would be difficult for people to change their habits.

"People here would have to unlearn the current culture of 'eat and leave'. It will take a long time," he added.

Ms Phua also thinks that clearing your own tray is a matter of graciousness.

She said: "For me, the most compelling reason is that many of the cleaners are low-skilled with little alternative work options, and could be elderly or even disabled.

"They deserve to work in a more conducive setting, not having to pick up the food remains and used utensils of patrons."

Dr Balakrishnan also said that it is important for Singaporeans to change their behaviour and current social norms.

He said: "Singapore may be a clean place, but it is often due to the hard work of the cleaners, rather than the consideration and behaviour of us Singaporeans."

The minister also reassured people that the new initiatives will not be a cost-cutting measure for operators.

He said: "No cleaner is going to lose their job because we are more gracious and more considerate to clean up after ourselves."

linheng@sph.com.sg

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