SINGAPORE - Hawkers at Jurong West Hawker Centre will no longer have to pay a 20-cent fee each time a tray is returned, following discussions with the hawker centre's operator.
Instead, the system will be changed to one where customers pay a 20-cent deposit to collect clean trays for use, and are refunded the same amount when they return the trays at designated collection points.
The decision came after Hawker Management, which manages the Jurong centre, met most of its hawkers over the past few days.
In a statement on Thursday (Oct 18), Hawker Management said: "In line with the objective to encourage a gracious society where patrons play a proactive role in returning their trays, the tray return initiative will thereby help to reduce cleaning fees for tenants while easing the workload of the cleaners."
Hawker Management will work closely with tenants to work out the mechanics and operational details. Once these details are finalised, it will announce when the new deposit-based tray return initiative will take effect.
The operator added that, following the meetings, a committee comprising of hawker representatives will be formed and it will work closely with Hawker Management to drive and implement changes at the hawker centre, including on the new deposit-based tray return initiative.
Both sides will also look at plans to improve footfall and vibrancy through, for instance, festive marketing activities as well as working closely with community clubs and residents' committees.
In addition, the statement said Hawker Management has also noted all other feedback and comments gathered from the meetings, including contractual terms, and are in the midst of reviewing them internally with a view to address all outstanding matters quickly.
"With an aligned common objective, Hawker Management is committed to continue working closely with its tenants at the hawker centre," the statement said.
Commenting on the latest development, Mr S. Govindaraju, 39, who co-owns a stall selling nasi briyani and roti prata at the hawker centre, told The Straits Times: "I do not like the original tray return system. But with this new system, I am concerned customers will not want to come here now.
"If you ask me, I think there should be no system at all, and people should be able to use trays for free."
When contacted, Makansutra founder and food critic K. F. Seetoh, who first raised the issue of the tray-return fee in a website post on Oct 9, told The Straits Times that the new system is "a good start".
However, he added: "I think people should not be incentivised to be gracious. We do not pay people to be civic-minded."
Rather, he suggests that a sense of civic-mindedness can be encouraged through education, especially of the young.
"Ikea does not pay people to return trays, but yet most customers there do so conscientiously. If it can be done at Ikea, why can't it be done at a hawker centre?"
The National Environment Agency said in a statement that it welcomed the idea to start a committee with hawker representatives, and for both sides to work closely together to implement various activities to improve the vibrancy of the hawker centre.
It added: "As we have been doing, NEA will continue to pay close attention and support the operator and stall-holders to address the remaining outstanding matters."