Singaporeans rely too much on other people to clean up after them, and this has to change if the country wants to become a cleaner, less wasteful society.
To this effect, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday urged Singaporeans to take more ownership in their daily lives.
Speaking at the launch of the annual Clean and Green Singapore carnival at Boon Keng, he noted that the country had made great strides on becoming a garden city with many trees and waterways dotting the island.
But on the cleanliness front, he said: "After 20 to 30 years, we haven't improved in many of our habits."
Mr Tharman also highlighted Singaporeans' reliance on others to clean up after them.
"Today, we are reliant on 50,000 cleaners… We also have our community initiatives, teams of volunteers who go around and help pick up the litter. But that isn't going to solve the problem," he said.
"The only way to solve the problem is habits - habits have to change, and being mindful of our neighbours, being mindful of our fellow citizens, and being public-spirited, is what Singapore has to be all about."
ARMY OF CLEANERS
Today, we are reliant on 50,000 cleaners… We also have our community initiatives, teams of volunteers who go around and help pick up the litter. But that isn't going to solve the problem.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER THARMAN SHANMUGARATNAM, on Singaporeans' reliance on others to clean up after them.
He cited the Ministry of Education's move to get students to have cleaning activities starting this year as a good example of how to get people more involved.
He also noted the advancements in technology that would help more sustainable living, such as cheaper solar panels in the United States.
Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli later told reporters about the rising number of natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, and how it has prompted accelerated concern about climate change. He added that efforts are under way to get Singaporeans to use cars less frequently, aim at zero-waste lives and recycle more - efforts that would, over time, lead to "less deforestation, pollution and things that contribute to the greenhouse effect".
Public Hygiene Council chairman Edward D'Silva said he believed that Singaporeans may have become lax about public hygiene in recent decades as the authorities tried to steer away from strict penalties like fines and people started to rely more on cleaners and domestic helpers. "It's a natural reaction but a difficult habit to break. We also want to increase awareness, as people don't seem to realise that littering can lead to health hazards like pests," he added.
Mr D'Silva said his council was looking at edgier ways to push Singaporeans to use and waste less, like having a day or two without cleaners, or having no bins at all in a counter-intuitive bid to have less litter - as is the case in Japan.
Progress has been made on some fronts. Last year, the rate of recycling in households inched up to 21 per cent from 19 per cent the year before.
But in other areas, more could be done. The number of fines handed out for littering rose to a seven-year high last year, with the authorities meting out more than 31,000 fines, a 55 per cent jump from 20,000 tickets issued in 2014.
The amount of food waste generated here also climbed by about 40 per cent over the last 10 years. Last year, more than 790,000 tonnes of food was wasted - equivalent to two bowls of rice per person a day.
The Clean and Green festival launched yesterday runs until today for the public. Visitors can pick up tips on how to fight dengue, save energy and aim for zero-waste lives in their homes, at work and in public spaces.