Singaporeans must take ownership to make country clean: DPM Tharman

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam planting a tree at the annual Clean and Green carnival on Nov 4.
DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam planting a tree at the annual Clean and Green carnival on Nov 4.ST PHOTO: RACHEL AU-YONG

SINGAPORE - The drive to become a cleaner, less wasteful society will require Singaporeans to take more ownership in their daily lives, urged Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Saturday (Nov 4) morning.

He noted that the country had made great strides on becoming a garden city with many trees and waterways dotting the island. But on the cleanliness front, he added: “After the first 20 to 30 years, we haven’t improved in many of our habits.”

Mr Tharman, speaking at an event to promote environmental awareness, highlighted the nation’s reliance on others to clean up for them.

“Today, we are reliant on 50,000 cleaners… We also have our community initiatives, teams of volunteers who go around and help pick up the litter. But that isn’t going to solve the problem,” he said.

“The only way to solve the problem is habits – habits have to change, and being mindful of our neighbours, being mindful of our fellow citizens, and being public spirited, is what Singapore has to be all about.”

He cited the Ministry of Education’s move to get students to have cleaning activities starting this year as a good example of how to get people more involved.

He also noted the advancements in technology that would help more sustainable living, such as cheaper solar panels in the US.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli later told reporters about the rising number of natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, and how it has prompted accelerated concern about climate change.

He added that efforts are underway to get Singaporeans to use cars less frequently, aim at zero-waste lives and recycle more — efforts that would, over time, lead to “less deforestation, pollution and things that contribute to the greenhouse effect”.

Public Hygiene Council chairman Edward D’Silva said his council was looking at edgier ways to push Singaporeans to use and waste less, like having a day or two without cleaners, or having no bins at all in a counter-intuitive bid to have less litter — as is the case in Japan.

Mr Tharman spoke at the annual Clean and Green carnival, held as part of the Clean and Green Singapore environmental campaign, at an open field next to Boon Keng MRT station.

At the event, he planted a cratoxylum cochinchinense, a native tree that can grow up to 30m in height, in keeping with the decades-long drive to make Singapore a garden city.

He also presented awards to eight grassroots organisations that had gone to lengths to ensure public hygiene, resource conservation and energy efficiency.

The carnival, which will run till Sunday for members of the public, offers visitors tips on how to fight dengue, save energy and aim for zero-waste lives in their homes, at work and in public spaces.

One of the highlights is an upcycling-themed flea market, where they can purchase unwanted items given a new lease on life, like tote bags made out of used clothes.