How residents can teach others to promote public hygiene: Panel

Moderator Diana Ser with panellists from the cleaning industry and environmental groups at a discussion organised by the Public Hygiene Council on Sept 18, 2021.
Moderator Diana Ser with panellists from the cleaning industry and environmental groups at a discussion organised by the Public Hygiene Council on Sept 18, 2021.PHOTO: PUBLIC HYGIENE COUNCIL

SINGAPORE - Asking others politely to pick up their litter and teaching children to practise good hygiene habits were some suggested ways to promote public hygiene at a virtual discussion on cleanliness in Singapore.

Organised by the Public Hygiene Council (PHC), the virtual event that aired on Facebook on Saturday (Sept 18) marks both PHC's 10th anniversary and World Cleanup Day.

The event is part of a series of activities and initiatives under PHC's six-month long Keep Clean, Singapore! annual campaign, which started in April.

Panellists from the cleaning industry and environmental groups discussed how residents could inculcate cleanliness in the community, especially at shared public spaces like parks, beaches, neighbourhoods, hawker centres and coffee shops.

They discussed the benefits and drawbacks of enforcing public hygiene standards through regulations.

Dr Tan Ern Ser, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore's sociology department, feels enforcement is necessary.

"But at the end of the day, what we need are people who, even when no one is looking at them, will still refrain from littering," he added.

Behavioural insights practitioner Sandra Lim said that habits must be inculcated to be sustainable and effective.

Enforcement is a policy lever that can encourage people to turn some actions, like the returning of trays, into a habit, she added.

"Of course, there will be quick short-term effects. But we all know that it takes time for something to become a habitual action," she said. "In reality, we need to see how effective (the enforcement measures are) to develop habitual actions."

The participants also cited examples of public hygiene practices overseas that Singapore could draw from.

These include mandatory recycling in South Korea and ground-up cleaning efforts in Rwanda.

Ms Farah Sanwari, co-founder of environmental youth group FiTree, noted how residents she spoke to in South Korea were careful to segregate their waste as the estate's value could depreciate if waste was not disposed of properly.

Even if hygiene practices are mandated, it is still up to society to ensure that norms are being followed, she added.

During a pre-recorded opening address, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor noted how the Covid-19 pandemic had increased awareness of the need to ensure high standards in public hygiene and cleanliness.

She said: "As awareness and expectations of public hygiene and cleanliness rise, there will be increased demand for quality cleaning services.

"Meeting these demands will require the environmental services industry, comprising cleaning, waste management and pest control service providers, to develop new capabilities.

"With an ageing and shrinking workforce, we need to also transform the industry to improve productivity and make the jobs more attractive."

Since Sept 1, the National Environment Agency has been taking enforcement action against those who do not comply with advice to return their trays at hawker centres.

First-time offenders will be given a written warning.

Second-time offenders will face a $300 composition fine, and subsequent offenders may face court fines, which can go up to $2,000 for the first conviction.

Noting the need for a whole-of-society approach to ensure public cleanliness, PHC chairman Edward D'Silva said: "Many Singaporeans still expect more from cleaners to ensure our vision of a clean city, and not just a cleaned one.

"But for high standards of cleanliness to be sustainable in the long run, all of us must start playing our part."