Hawker centre diners clear tables on first day of enforcement but some still flouting rule

Patrons returning used trays at the tray-return point at Serangoon Gardens Market on Sept 1, 2021. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
NEA enforcement officers patrolling Serangoon Gardens Market on Sept 1, 2021. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - The first day of tray return enforcement kicked in on Wednesday (Sept 1) with most patrons at some hawker centres here diligently clearing their own trays. However, cleaners said that some patrons still left used crockery and litter on tables.

When The Straits Times visited Redhill Food Centre on Wednesday morning, the centre's toilet attendant, Madam Ong Hong Luan, 76, said in Mandarin: "Some errant patrons come in very early at 4am to 5am to eat before working, before any of the cleaners come in."

"They left their trays because they thought no one would see and catch them," said Madam Ong.

From Wednesday, enforcement action will be taken against those who do not clean up after themselves at hawker centres. This comes after a three-month advisory period.

First-time offenders will be given a written warning, while second-time offenders will face a $300 composition fine. Subsequent offenders may face court fines, which can go up to $2,000 for the first conviction.

Enforcement of the rule requiring diners at coffee shops and foodcourts to clear used crockery and table litter has been pushed back to January next year (2022).

The Straits Times also visited Serangoon Gardens Market and Food Centre, where people could be seen returning their trays to designated tray-return stations during breakfast and lunch.

Announcements were regularly broadcast at the hawker centre in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil to remind patrons to observe safe distancing and to return their trays after use. There were also National Environment Agency (NEA) officers patrolling the market and reminding people to return their trays.

Among the officers were Ms Coral Yeo, 34, and Mr Timothy Tung, 36, who have been patrolling hawker centres since June 1.

"Generally everyone has been compliant today," said Ms Yeo, who was on duty during the breakfast and lunch shifts.

"In time, people will realise that the turnover rate is faster, so they can find a table much easier and they won't have to sit at a dirty table," she added.

Stall owners at Serangoon Gardens Market and Food Centre have been educating customers on the new rule.

Mr Mohammed Firuz Samur, 49, owner of Aliff Nasi Lemak, said: "Once the customer gets fined, it will affect our business because they won't come back to the market anymore to buy our food. We hope that the NEA can be more lenient."

The Straits Times also visited Amoy Street Food Centre at around noon, when office workers turned out in full force for their lunch break. Two NEA enforcement officers were seen.

People return trays at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre on Sept 1, 2021. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Madam Noorjahan Manna Shahul Hamid, 59, owner of Indian Muslim food stall Bismillah, said that Amoy Street hawker centre was much cleaner after the Government announced plans to enforce tray return earlier this year.

"The situation used to be disastrous. People would throw their used tissue paper and chopsticks on the floor. Now, the tables are empty and clean. The floors are as clean as my own home now," she said with a laugh.

Cleaners' roles have also changed. Instead of clearing used crockery and litter on tables, they were seen clearing tray-return stations at the hawker centres in Redhill, Serangoon Garden and Amoy Street. Cleaners were also seen wiping down the tables after patrons had left.

Mr Oh Tiong Li, 53, a cleaning supervisor at Redhill Food Centre, hoped that NEA enforcement officers would be "empathetic to seniors", especially those using canes and wheelchairs, and not warn or fine them indiscriminately.

"It's not easy for them to return trays as they may not be able to move as well or the trays may be heavy," said Mr Oh.

Retiree Wai Fooi, 78, who visits Redhill Food Centre regularly, said: "If there is a tray-return station nearby, I still can return my tray. I have had surgery on both my knees. Now, my friends and I prefer to get our food in takeaway packets to eat at the hawker centre. It's easier to throw the packets away as they are lighter and more convenient."

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