$1 tray-return fee for customers may work better

It is good news that hawkers at Jurong West Hawker Centre no longer have to pay a 20-cent fee each time a tray is returned (Hawkers, operator settle tray-return fee dispute; Oct 19).

Instead, customers now pay a 20-cent deposit when collecting clean trays for use. On returning the tray after use, the same amount is returned to them.

This system would reduce the cost of operation for the hawkers and marginally increase their profit. This way, the hawkers would be able to provide customers with reasonably priced and healthy food, and both customers and hawkers benefit.

On closer look, it appears that the 20-cent deposit is a negligible amount and may not bring about the desired effect. Most customers would not mind forgoing the 20 cents by not returning the trays to the designated collection points.

Instead, paying a $1 deposit when collecting clean trays would bring about better results in the clearing of used trays. The fear losing $1 would force customers to return their trays.

This is similar to the practice of some supermarkets that require customers to fork out $1 for the use of a shopping cart, which they get back when the cart is returned.

Such a practice would be unnecessary if every hawker centre or food court customer voluntarily returned his tray after use to the collection points. Unfortunately, graciousness in this respect is still a work in progress even after so many years.

Should the tray-return system be successfully implemented at Jurong West Hawker Centre, other hawker centres in Singapore could follow suit.

Pavithran Vidyadharan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2018, with the headline '$1 tray-return fee for customers may work better'. Print Edition | Subscribe