SINGAPORE - Madam May Toh, 63, makes an effort to clear her trays and dishes after her meals at foodcourts. The housewife also makes it a point to remind others to clear their trays, but has been scolded for doing so.
She hopes a new rule that enforces returning trays at foodcourts and coffee shops, which kicks in on Saturday (Jan 1), will help to get people to do so all the time.
"I've been clearing my trays and dishes all along. I don't think it's troublesome if it makes the job easier for cleaners," she told The Straits Times at the Kopitiam foodcourt at Hillion Mall in Bukit Panjang on Thursday (Dec 30).
Under the new rule, those who do not clear their trays at coffee shops and foodcourts will face a composition fine of $300 if they do so a second time, and a court fine of up to $2,000 after that. First-time offenders will be given a written warning.
The Straits Times visited 10 coffee shops and three foodcourts on Thursday and observed that a majority of diners cleared their tables.
Stallholders and cleaners said having clearly designated areas for diners to return their trays has helped.
Mr Lee Kian Chye, 60, a cleaner at Buey Tahan See-Food coffee shop in Bukit Batok, said in Mandarin: "Everybody is doing so. They will clear their trays when they are done, but I think it's also because of the law. But that's still a good thing, the place is clean."
"I don't think diners are snatching my job - I still have to clean tables and help to wash the dishes. I am grateful when they help, because I have one less thing to do," he added.
A Muslim stall owner at Broadway Food Centre in Jurong East, who wanted to be known only as Mr Rezalludin, 48, said diners have been cooperative.
"They will ask us where the tray return station is if they don't know, or help to put the dirty crockery in the pails in front of our stall," he said.
But there are still a number of people who do not have a habit of returning their trays at coffee shops and foodcourts.
The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) said on Thursday that more than 7,000 diners were reminded to return their crockery and trays during the advisory period that started in November.
At the Kopitiam foodcourt in VivoCity on Thursday afternoon, ST saw five groups of diners leaving their dirty crockery behind.
When ST approached a couple who left behind their empty bowls, they declined to comment.
Ms Zaliha Ali, 67, a cleaner at the foodcourt, said most customers do not comply despite reminders.
She said: "I will remind them about the potential fine (from Jan 1) but they won't listen and some even scold me. Even though there's a reminder pasted on the table, it's no use. There's not enough manpower here to clear the tables fast enough for the next customer."
Some cleaners, stallholders and observers said some people will be spurred to action only through legislation.
Ms Jaceline Wong, 30, a chicken rice stall owner at Toh Guan Food and Drinks Centre, said: "From what I see, more people are unwilling to return their trays. I feel that this is an individual thing - if you are responsible and gracious, you will definitely return your trays. But it is all dependent on legislation to change people's mindsets."
Ms Lee Siew Tin, 53, manager of the drink stall at Chai Chee 29 Food House, said the new rule would convince stubborn customers to return their trays.
Public Hygiene Council chairman Edward D'Silva said he visited a few coffee shops and foodcourts during the advisory period and noticed that many diners did not clear their tables.
"People's mindsets will change only if there's legislation," he said.
However, he added that operators should also proactively encourage people to return their trays, as well as place tray and crockery return trolleys in places that are visible - especially in foodcourts, which are bigger than coffee shops.
For Ms Jesminpal Kaur, 19, a health food stall manager at a coffee shop in Siglap Drive, her hope is that the new rule will help in teaching people the correct etiquette and to be more responsible.
Madam Song Hee Lan, a 78-year-old cleaner at the Food Republic foodcourt in VivoCity, is looking forward to diners clearing their own trays.
She said: "Keeping the crockery one by one hurts my wrists, and doing that for eight hours every day is very tiring."