Parliament: MP raises possibility of using DNA tests to nab litterbugs

The issue of high-rise littering stirred up a lively exchange in Parliament yesterday, with Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) throwing light on a peculiar form of high-rise litter that has been a persistent issue in the past few years - soiled sanitary pads.

Ms Lee, who does monthly litter-picking with residents in her constituency, was among MPs who expressed concern about enforcement actions by the National Environment Agency against high-rise litterbugs.

She pointed out that deploying surveillance cameras for a short period of time hardly addresses the problem.

"There were several high-rise littering of sanitary pads for many years and until today, it is still not solved. And why? Because NEA deploys CCTV for only a few days. And the problem persists," she said.

"Actually, if you have targeted an ambition to catch the culprit, I'm sure we'll be able to catch (him or her). Otherwise, it looks like this problem will disappear only when the litterbug (enters) menopause."

As MPs burst into laughter, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said "resources are never unlimited" and "surveillance cameras are deployed where it is possible and where it needs to be done".

She said the number of successful enforcement actions has risen about 120 times since 2011 to more than 1,200 last year, after cameras were deployed in 2012. But they are "really not the panacea", she said. "We cannot just depend on enforcement alone. It has to be coupled with community engagement and education."

 
 
 

Dr Khor cited a pilot programme launched last year in an Ang Mo Kio neighbourhood plagued with persistent high-rise littering and illegal pigeon feeding.

The number of cases plunged from 21 to nine in six months following outreach efforts by various agencies and grassroots organisations, she said. These included putting up publicity materials and forming a community watch group.

Ms Lee also asked about the possibility of using DNA to nab offenders.

Dr Khor replied: "First of all, when the litter comes down... it's likely that it's not the DNA of the culprit alone that will be there. So it'd be very difficult, at least as far as we know the technology involved. I'm not referring specifically to sanitary pads. In general, there will be many other DNA involved."

Vanessa Liu

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2019, with the headline 'MP raises possibility of using DNA tests to nab litterbugs'. Print Edition | Subscribe