Impose coin-deposit system to encourage tray returns

From my assessment of online opinions, many Singaporeans are unwilling to take their trays to tray-return points at hawker centres and foodcourts after eating ("S'pore diners still fare poorly in returning trays"; Monday, and "Reward those who return their trays" by Mr Seah Yam Meng, and "Practice must extend beyond school canteen" by Ms Oei Khoen Hwa; both published yesterday).

Meanwhile, amid the labour shortage, hawkers have to deal with not only the cooking, but also the washing of their dishes.

This is extremely inefficient use of labour and makes their job more unpleasant than it should be. Cooks should focus on cooking, and cleaners on cleaning.

To solve this problem, we should look at the example of Timbre+ in Ayer Rajah Crescent.

The eatery there imposes a deposit of $1 for every tray. This money is automatically returned to the customer when he returns the tray at the tray-return area (which involves a conveyor belt and, I presume, a tray detector).

In my visits there, I have never seen a single person fail to return his tray.

Not only that, the dishes are centrally washed at the tray-return area. This is not only efficient - as the dishwashers can use large machines to complete their tasks - but also hygienic, because dishes are washed almost immediately after being returned.

There are no food scraps lying around waiting to be picked up by birds and other vermin. There is no putrid smell of leftovers decaying in the heat and humidity.

In short, Timbre+ is the model that hawker centres and foodcourts should emulate. It cleverly utilises economies of scale and technology to make the eating experience more pleasant and more efficient.

Sum Siew Kee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'Impose coin-deposit system to encourage tray returns'. Print Edition | Subscribe