SINGAPORE - Enforcement officers spoke to thousands of diners at hawker centres about returning their trays, when dining in was allowed to resume on Monday (June 21).
Speaking to the media during a visit to North Bridge Road Market and Food Centre on Tuesday morning, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor said officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA) had advised more than 4,500 diners not to forget to return their trays.
When The Straits Times visited three hawker centres on Tuesday, most diners were seen returning trays on their own, although some were still not doing so.
At about 9.45am, more than 10 people were seen returning their trays and used cutlery at the North Bridge Road food centre, while a few did not return their trays at the Clementi 448 Market and Food Centre in the four hours that ST was there.
NEA officers were seen at the Serangoon Garden Market and Food Centre and also at the North Bridge Road centre.
It is mandatory for diners to return their trays and clear their table of litter from June 1, but no enforcement action will be taken until after Aug 31, as part of an effort to help diners adjust, the NEA had said on May 14.
But dining out was not allowed until Monday, after Singapore introduced phase two (heightened alert) measures on May 16.
While being able to dine out again is a welcome development, Dr Khor said, there are "considerable risks" associated with dining at public places and it is critical to maintain high standards of cleanliness.
She said: "This is all the more important in light of the recent Bukit Merah View cluster where, currently, it is not possible to rule out the transmission of Covid-19 through the use of common spaces."
From Sept 1, enforcement action will be taken against those who do not clean up after themselves in public dining places, a move that comes after years of extensive educational efforts to change the behaviour and mindsets of diners.
First-time offenders will be given a written warning. Second-time offenders will face a $300 composition fine, and subsequent offences may lead to court fines, which can go up to $2,000 for the first conviction. Enforcement action will not be taken against those with disabilities or are frail and elderly and unable to clear the tables.
The Singapore Food Agency will work with NEA to roll out enforcement progressively at coffee shops and foodcourts in the fourth quarter of this year.
Dr Khor said the NEA is also working with stakeholders, such as cleaning companies, to revise the table cleaning workflow for cleaners.
The new workflow will focus on the cleaning and sanitising of tables, as well as managing tray return stations, as opposed to clearing dirty trays and food remnants from tables. The NEA will also be setting up 75 more tray return stations at hawker centres, in addition to the 900 available now.
Most diners, hawkers and cleaners ST spoke to said they were aware that returning trays is now mandatory. They also welcomed the move, although some diners had mixed feelings about it.
One of them, Mr Muru Nagaraju, 52, a freelance corporate trainer, said: "I'm very happy, but also a bit sad. I thought that Singaporeans would be civic-minded enough without having this law. Unfortunately, we need to have this law. Hopefully, people will start returning their trays more."
Another diner, Ms Rachel Cheng, said she was not aware that it was now mandatory, despite returning her tray after her meal.
The 32-year-old, who works in e-commerce, said: "Giving people fines seems a bit heavy-handed. It is a good social norm to cultivate but fines do seem punitive."
Hawkers and cleaners ST spoke to said enforcing tray returns and clearing table litter benefits everyone.
Ms Saadah Zulkifli, 24, who runs a satay stall in Clementi, said: "Sometimes the cleaner will take time to clear the plates on the tables. There are tables directly in front of my store and it is unhygienic because birds will come and pick on the leftover food on the plates."
Some cleaners said attitudes will take time to change. While more people have been returning trays, they said many diners still do not have the habit of clearing table litter, such as food remnants, while others are still uncooperative.
Mr Ng Tian Sang, 70, who works as a cleaner at the North Bridge Road food centre, said: "Sometimes, diners still tell us that as long as we are cleaners, it is our job to clear the tables for them."
- Additional reporting by Cha Hae Won and Baey Zo-er