What you can do about S'pore's dirty shame
The Meadow at Gardens by the Bay felt like an obstacle course last Saturday night.
As I approached the stage to catch the last few acts of this year's Laneway Festival, I had to jump to get past a heap of disposable ponchos.
They had been handed out by the organisers for use in case of rain. But most of the concert-goers had chucked them on the ground.
Earlier in the afternoon, my friend and I had found it difficult to find a clean spot to put down our mat.
The rubbish left behind by the 13,000 concert-goers was so appalling that it prompted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to mention it in a Facebook post yesterday.
He wrote: "It takes continuous effort to keep Singapore clean. We need to progress from being a cleaned city to a truly clean city."
This was my third time at Laneway. I was impressed by how the music line-up, food and beverage choices, and side activities have been getting bigger and better every year.
But the litter too seems to be growing at an alarming rate each year.
You could blame the huge crowd.
You could blame the lack of bins.
You could even blame the cleaners.
But the real culprits are the litterbugs and the rest of us who allow them to get away with it.
This is Singapore's dirty shame - an ostensibly First World nation with Third World social manners.
Why is it that people from Myanmar, one of the poorest nations in South-east Asia, can pick up after themselves while Singaporeans can't or won't?
Is it because too many of us are spoiled with maids picking up after us at home and with cleaners doing so for us in public spaces?
PM Lee's use of the term "cleaned city" is telling. It was used by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in 2012, when he told Singaporeans to have a "zero tolerance" attitude towards littering in public places.
The Minister for the Environment and Water Resources recalled at the time how, during a trip to Tokyo, Japan, he had wanted to meet the cleaners after noticing the spotless streets.
"The diplomat who accompanied me told me this was not possible - she said there were no street cleaners," he said. "She then recounted how she was scolded when she first arrived in Tokyo and tried to eat a sandwich as she strolled along the street. People stared at her, and told her pointedly not to mess up the street."
Calling Singapore a "cleaned city" means that it is the result of the work of cleaners, not its populace.
After all, a 2011 study on littering showed that more than one-third of Singaporeans would litter if it was convenient or if they would not get caught.
Mr Liak Teng Lit, chairman of the Public Hygiene Council, has strong words for such people.
"They are spoiled by efficient cleaners and expect that people will clean up after them. It's embarrassing," he told The New Paper yesterday.
"Some of them will even justify their bad behaviour by thinking that they are creating jobs for cleaners."
Mr Liak said the rest of us who do not litter need to speak out, as they do in Japan and other countries, where even children chide adults for littering.
"We should shame these people who are doing shameful things," he said.
He insisted that all it takes is a gentle reminder to the person who is littering.
And in PM Lee's own words in his Facebook post, we must remind "others to do the right thing".
So the next time you see someone litter, do not look away.
Tell the person gently but firmly that he is part of Singapore's dirty shame.
Share your views with Linette at firstname.lastname@example.org
They are spoiled by efficient cleaners and expect that people will clean up after them. It's embarrassing.
- Mr Liak Teng Lit, chairman of the Public Hygiene Council
'I just threw my rubbish on grass'
From afar, it looked like The Meadow at Gardens by The Bay was covered with colourful flowers to celebrate the end of the wildly successful music festival last Saturday night.
But as an army of cleaners marched in after the Laneway Festival concert-goers were gone, it was apparent that the place was really filled with heaps of litter - ponchos, empty plastic cups and half-eaten food.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned the ugly mess in a Facebook post yesterday.
Contrasting the situation with how Myanmar sports fans had picked up litter at the National Stadium after their team lost to Singapore at an AFF Suzuki Cup match last November, he wrote: "It takes continuous effort to keep Singapore clean. We need to progress from being a cleaned city to a truly clean city.
"All of us can play a part - picking up our own litter, educating our children and grandchildren, and reminding others to do the right thing. Visit the Public Hygiene Council's page to find out how you can help."
Laneway Festival Singapore, which has been running annually since 2011, attracted a record 13,000 people this year.
When contacted, the organisers said that they were looking into ways to improve the waste management situation and possibly include recycling efforts.
PHOTO: FACEBOOK/LEE HSIEN LOONG
Such sustainability practices are common in major overseas music festivals such as the Glastonbury Festival in the UK and Coachella in the US. (See report, above.)
"It is inevitable that for a festival of this scale, a lot of waste is collected and it is our utmost wish that we can get support from agencies to aid in recycling as it is not an effort that an organiser can do independently," a spokesman for Laneway said in an e-mail reply to The New Paper.
"While we have ensured the logistics required to create and maintain a clean environment for our patrons are in place, we will also need the patrons' cooperation to help keep the festival environment clean, because keeping the festival grounds clean requires everyone's involvement."
Concert-goers approached by TNP thought that the litter problem could have been due to the larger-than-usual turnout and what they said was a lack of rubbish bins.
And at least one of them, who declined to be named, admitted she was a litterbug.
The 26-year-old writer, who has been going to Laneway since 2011, said: "I couldn't find any bins within walking distance, so I just threw my rubbish on the grass.
"Anyway, I think people who attend such festivals don't bother to look for bins."
Another concert-goer, who wanted to be known only as Arisya, 27, a media planner, kept her litter and searched for a bin whenever there was a break in the acts.
She said: "I think the littering intensified at night because it was harder to find the bins.
"It also boils down to the reluctance of Singaporeans to clean up after themselves. For example, most people don't clear their trays after their meals."
Ms Zhang Yun Xi, 27, who is unemployed, said the organisers could have added more bins, but she did not find it overly inconvenient to dispose of her litter.
"I think the lack of monitoring encouraged litterbugs, but I don't think Singaporeans need to have people watching to ensure they don't litter."
The penalties for littering have become twice as harsh since April last year.
Offenders can be fined up to $2,000 for the first conviction, $4,000 for the second and $10,000 for the third and subsequent convictions.
Laneway Festival, a music festival which features mainly indie acts, began in Melbourne, Australia, in 2005.
It now takes place in cities such as Detroit in the US, Auckland in New Zealand and Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide in Australia.
It debuted in Singapore in 2011. All 13,000 tickets for this year's event were sold out.
Artists who performed on three stages at The Meadow in Gardens by the Bay included Future Islands and St Vincent from the US, FKA Twigs and Royal Blood from the US, Angus and Julia Stone and Chet Faker from Australia.
How they cleaned up
LANEWAY FESTIVAL SINGAPORE 2015
- A firm was engaged from a list of cleaning service companies approved by Gardens by the Bay.
- A total of 60 cleaners and 10 supervisors were deployed from Jan 18 to 26.
- More than 80 bins, with each able to hold 120 to 660 litres of waste, and 10 open-top containers with 18 cubic metre capacity, were spread across the festival grounds.
GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL UK 2014
- 800-strong litter-picking crew
- Recycling was encouraged and 49 per cent of rubbish was recycled in 2013.
- 15,000 bins around the site were clearly identified for either wet or dry recyclable materials or non-recyclable rubbish.
COACHELLA, US 2014
- Bottles, cans or cups collected at the grounds could be exchanged for T-shirts, refillable bottles or posters.