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Learning to keep Singapore clean

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One Sunday in April next year has been designated as a day off for cleaners islandwide to get residents to take responsibility for the cleanliness of their estates. This might appear to be a symbolic gesture, but it underscores the concrete importance of the work which cleaners do. That work is all the more important because of its invisibility: Singapore is a clean city because it is a cleaned city. But evidently, some residents do not fully appreciate the effort that this regular cleaning entails and take the cleanliness of estates for granted. A minority indeed defaces that cleanliness by littering - a social disease whose symptoms are kept in check through punitive fines but whose origins, which lie in a cavalier disregard for the health of the environment, continue to hobble the graciousness which should mark the evolution of Singapore not only as an affluent but also as an environmentally conscious society.

The latest initiative might help change that to some extent. On April 26, designated CleanSG Day, residents will be encouraged to help their town councils to clean their estates. That could include sweeping public spaces, combing for litter, and clearing rubbish bins - tasks that cleaners carry out every day. Similar initiatives have been implemented on a smaller scale in some areas, to good response from residents. Indeed, it has been suggested that a once-a-year event might not be effective enough, and that the exercise could be held more frequently, perhaps once or twice a month. This is a heartening attitude because it affirms the need for Singaporeans to take the cleanliness of their precincts as a personal responsibility. What obscures that responsibility is the presence of an army of cleaners, many of them foreigners, who work through the week to ensure that places and spaces remain clean. Giving them time off would amplify the everyday importance of their work.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2019, with the headline Learning to keep Singapore clean. Subscribe