Thursday, 13 September 2012

Tray-return campaign set for a comeback

Initiative comes amid shortage of workers in cleaning industry
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2012

THE return-your-food-tray campaign is back again, and before the year ends, more hawker centres will have tray racks and patrons will be urged to clear up after eating.

The move comes amid a shortage of manpower in the cleaning industry, which will need to be restructured so that more people will be willing to work as cleaners, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

His ministry will relaunch, in the last quarter of this year, the campaign to get hawker centre patrons to return their plates and utensils, although attempts in 2003 and 2008 did not fare well.

The 2008 effort was a joint effort by the National Environment Agency (NEA) and The Straits Times.

Called Goodness Gracious Me!, it had posters, table stickers and even volunteers on hand to prompt the good practice.

Tray returns rose initially but most people lapsed into their old ways after a while.

"We are reviewing the lessons from past efforts to see how we can relaunch a tray-return initiative that is sustainable in the long term," said Dr Balakrishnan.

For a start, the Government will have tray racks in a few hawker centres.

These racks will also be found in 10 new hawker centres the Government is building.

Eventually, all 107 hawker centres managed by the Government will have them.

An NEA spokesman said information on which hawker centres will launch the campaign will be given in the coming months.

But the drive is not just about kitting out food centres with tray racks, said Dr Balakrishnan.

"The more important message is to flag out behaviour and social norms."

He said countries such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan could keep clean because their people were more gracious, not because they had more cleaners.

"Singapore may be a clean place but it's often due to the hard work of the cleaners rather than the consideration and behaviour of us Singaporeans," he said.

The issue came up in Parliament yesterday after Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) asked if food centres were facing a shortage of cleaners.

Dr Balakrishnan confirmed the shortage, which he attributed to a tight labour market and low wages.

His ministry was working to make the job of cleaners more attractive, but "all of us are going to have to learn to cope with fewer cleaners", he said.

At Zion Riverside Food Centre, at which the previous two campaigns took place, patrons appeared willing to try again while stall owners seemed lukewarm to the impending effort.

It is among three NEA hawker centres with tray racks but stall owners said only a minority of patrons use them.

Drinks stall owner Ken Tan, 50, said: "People just don't have much time left after queueing for their food. What if they dirty their clothes clearing the trays? How will they go back to work?"

Patrons felt it was worth another shot, especially if the tray racks could be made more prominent.

"There should be more messages on the tables, and role models," said housewife Lynn Chiam, 40. "If I see other people do it, I will do it too."


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