How to get more people to return their trays at food centres? The answer may simply be: put up more reminders.
At two hawker centres, reminders to return food trays - emblazoned on banners, tables and even aprons worn by cleaners - have had good results, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor yesterday.
At Zion Riverside Food Centre, four months after these reminders were introduced in March last year, more patrons returned their trays and dirty cutlery to designated tray-return stations.
From a daily average of five in 10, the return rate went up to seven in 10, based on an assessment last year by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.
The rate of tray return has also improved at Adam Food Centre in Adam Road, going from 9 per cent in July last year to 51 per cent in November, after reminders were emblazoned on banners and the T-shirts of cleaners, and made through audio announcements.
Dr Khor said her ministry plans to introduce such behavioural cues at more hawker centres, starting with Marsiling Mall and Bukit Merah Central food centres.
She said that inculcating a tray-return habit can ease the work of cleaners, allow for faster turnover of tables and improve hygiene.
A common misconception is that encouraging people to return their trays may deprive cleaners of their jobs, said Dr Khor, but this was not the case. "Cleaning companies cannot hire enough cleaners, and existing cleaners have difficulty coping with clearing crockery and cleaning the tables, particularly during peak hours," she said.
Mr Peter Tan, 57, chairman of the hawkers' association at Zion Riverside Food Centre opposite Great World City, said that hawkers and cleaners would even personally remind patrons to return their trays.
It has become easier to find clean, empty tables, said administrator Veronica Mah, 60, who eats at the centre daily. "It makes it easier for the next person," she added.