1 night, 1 bridge, 50 bags of trash

In one night, it is not uncommon for Mr Keria Peli to collect 50 trash bags of litter from Read Bridge and its vicinity.

On a bad day, he collects 30 bags from just one round of cleaning the bridge.

This is despite the fact that at least five dustbins are placed around the bridge.

The trash is mostly left behind by irresponsible outdoor partygoers.

It is clear from the photos on these pages, taken last Friday night and Saturday morning, that not much has changed after the mess at Laneway Festival Singapore 2015 made the news.

Then, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commented on Facebook, saying that Singaporeans should pick up their own litter so that we can progress from being a "cleaned city to a truly clean city".

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and the Public Hygiene Council chairman Liak Teng Lit also weighed in on the issue.

But it seems that their words may have fallen on deaf ears.

We watched Mr Keria, 49, at work at Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay last Friday at 10pm.

The Malaysian has been working for Veolia Environmental Services for the past 13 years and travels six days a week from his home in Johor to report for his 12-hour shift at 6.30pm. The cleaner earns about $1,200 a month.

At about 11pm, we followed Mr Keria to the vicinity of Read Bridge. There were droves of people drinking, leaving empty bottles, cans and plastic bags when they left.

Many partygoers thought nothing of littering, assuming that someone else would pick up after them.


Mr Nicholas Tan, 21, who frequents Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay, said: "I try to throw away my rubbish after I am done. But sometimes when you're tipsy, you might forget to clean up."

Mr Keria told TNP in Malay that the scene can get really bad.

"About a year ago, fights were a daily occurrence here," he said.

"Because there were a lot of broken bottles, it was hard to sweep up the glass pieces."

Sometimes, people get drunk and throw up on the bridge.

The stench would overwhelm him, but he said that as a cleaner, he has no choice but to clean it.

To clean it up, he fills a bottle with water and uses it to wash away the vomit before sweeping up the residue.

He said: "It is worse if someone is lying down unconscious in a pool of his own vomit."

In such a situation, he would try to get the help of others around him to help move the person away before clearing up the vomit.

Mr Keria does not single-handedly move a person who has passed out - not because he isn't strong enough, but because he is afraid of receiving a complaint should the person's belongings go missing.

With many people around, Mr Keria's job gets even tougher because he has to skirt around the side of Read Bridge, avoiding the crowd where possible.

A Veolia Environmental Services spokesman told TNP that it was to ensure that cleaners do not disrupt any members of public while doing their job.

He also said there have been complaints about cleaners stealing items, when in reality they were merely clearing away what they thought was trash.

At 11.45pm, some bars in the area were still open and there were many customers sitting at the tables.

With that many people around, Mr Keria could not sweep the area.

He had once swept up an area while there were people at the restaurants and bars, and he ended up receiving a complaint that his sweeping was causing dust to fly towards the patrons.

So the only thing he can do is use a pair of tongs to pick up big pieces of trash.

Mr Keria said his job is by no means an easy one. He said: "I work my shifts alone, and it can get very lonely with no one to talk to.

"But I have been doing it for 13 years, it is all I know how to do. I'm used to it by now."

When asked, he said he was not aware of the new legislation banning public consumption of alcohol after 10.30pm.

He said the law is definitely a good thing, as there will be much less rubbish to clear if people do not drink in public.

But Mr Keria admitted that it would probably not be easy to change the behaviour of people.

Mr Tan, however, said things seemed to be improving.

He said: "I notice there are fewer people who drink in public here. It seems the situation is getting better as a result of the new law, even though it isn't in effect yet."

This article was first published on February 10, 2015.
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