'Spreading disease': Diners blame tray-return rule after numerous pigeons spotted picking food off trolley

'Spreading disease': Diners blame tray-return rule after numerous pigeons spotted picking food off trolley
Birds pecking away at leftover food at Teban Market and Food Centre's tray return area.
PHOTO: TikTok/Tohhongchuah

One downside of eating at hawker centres is having to deal with pesky, hungry birds that stalk the area in search of food. 

And it's even more of a turn-off when you see them having a field day with the leftover food at the tray return area. 

That's what Toh Hong Chua witnessed while dining at Teban Gardens Market and Food Centre on Saturday (March 4) at around 7.30am. 

A TikTok video he uploaded on Sunday showed two tray return areas that were stacked with used cutlery and crockery. 

Over a dozen birds could be seen pecking away at the leftover food.

While some may have found the incident disturbing, Toh told AsiaOne that he found the whole thing "very natural". 

"Those leftovers are unwanted by us; [the] birds are helping us to clear [the food]," he said, adding that he even found the birds "cute". 

He also clarified that he was not blaming anyone — like the cleaners — for the incident. 

"I would like to make it clear that I took the video not to complain or [express unhappiness] with anyone," he shared. 


Is the tray return policy to blame? 

While Toh has no negative feelings towards the incident, not everyone feels the same way. 

In the comments section of his TikTok video, one commenter said the issue lies with the tray-return policy. 

Others complained that despite returning their used crockery and cutlery, no one clears them from the designated tray return area.

Some also pointed fingers at the cleaners and accused them of "not doing their work". 

Several netizens also claimed that this hawker centre isn't the only place facing such issues, adding that this happens at other hawker centres such as Boon Lay Place Market and Food Village and Tekka Centre. 

Some also voiced out concerns about the incident causing hygiene issues. 


On the comments, Toh said he hopes netizens will stop blaming the cleaners for the incident. 

"Please don't jump to conclusions that those cleaners [are] not working. I know many saw the video [and] said [the] cleaners [were] not doing their work. 

"In fact, those cleaners were busy cleaning and clearing [tables] at the other corner which [was] near the [table where] I was [having] my breakfast," he clarified. 

Toh also added that "nothing is perfect".

"[Teban Gardens Market and Food Centre] is one of the cleanest hawker centres I've patronised. I will continue to patronise [it]."

AsiaOne has reached out to the National Environment Agency (NEA) for more details. 

No fines served since tray-return rule started

The tray-return policy took effect on June 1, 2021.

Enforcements for those who do not clean up after themselves were implemented on Sept 1, 2021. 

First-time offenders are issued a written warning. Second-time offenders face a $300 composition fine, and subsequent offenders may face court fines of up to $2,000 for the first conviction. 

NEA said the move came after years of extensive educational efforts to change the behaviour and mindsets of diners at public places.

Chew Ming Fai, NEA's deputy chief executive of public health and director-general of public health, said then: "We've been talking about these clean tables since 2013, and there's been a lot of [educational] effort that has been put out over the years."

And it seems like the tray-return rule has been effective. 

No fines have been imposed on diners for failing to return used crockery and trays at eateries since the rule was enforced at hawker centres, coffee shops and foodcourts. 

And as at Jan 1 this year, only two written warnings had been issued to diners for refusing to heed enforcement officers’ advice to return their used crockery, said the NEA in response to queries from The Straits Times.

ALSO READ: Feeling peckish: Bird helps itself to Indian rojak in Buangkok stall


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