Forum: Time to penalise those not returning trays at food centres

I read with dismay that 36 per cent of those polled in the Public Cleanliness Satisfaction Survey, conducted by the Singapore Management University, were unsure whether trays should be returned in food establishments (Most want laws for stricter public hygiene, survey finds, Sept 19).

This despite public education, campaigns and the provision of tray-return stations in these establishments, including hawker centres, for years.

It is noteworthy that 93 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the cleanliness of public spaces. However, the appalling state of our hawker centres leaves much to be desired.

It is not because there are insufficient cleaners, but that many patrons are still not returning their trays after meals.

Scavengers like pigeons fly in quickly to feed on the leftovers, and flocks are often seen on the tables while other patrons are consuming their meals nearby.

The tray-return initiative, such as the one implemented at Bukit Merah Central hawker centre, has unfortunately not achieved its goals. Instead of paying a small fee for the tray upon ordering, patrons are collecting their food without the tray, with some leaving their soiled tissue paper on the table after eating. Pigeon problems continue unabated.

Singapore has strict anti-littering laws and these are regularly enforced against recalcitrant litterbugs.

As the soft approach has clearly not achieved its objective, is the time ripe for these laws to be expanded to include leaving trays and other leftovers in public places?

If it is an offence to discard used tissue paper on pathways, should there not be a penalty for leaving the same on hawker centre tables?

One suggestion is to hire tray-return ambassadors. A trial period of six months can be implemented whereby ambassadors advise patrons who do not return their trays to do so. After the trial period, fines can be imposed on those who break the rule.

The upcoming changes to the law on cleaning standards, some of which would make food establishments more liable in ensuring cleaner premises, are a positive step towards better hygiene (Changes to law on cleaning standards likely in Oct, Sept 20).

However, a two-pronged approach can be even more effective, whereby those who leave litter in food establishments can be held responsible and be penalised for it.

Ang Tun Loon