4,500 diners reminded to return trays as dining in resumes
NEA officers kept busy on first day of resumption of dining in, after mandatory tray-return kicked in on June 1
As many as 4,500 diners had to be reminded by National Environment Agency (NEA) officers to return their food trays to the tray stations on Monday, the first day dining in was allowed to resume.
The reminders came after NEA announced on May 14 that it would be mandatory for diners to return their trays and clear their table of litter from June 1.
However, to help diners adjust, enforcement action will be taken only after Aug 31, NEA added.
Dining in at food and beverage establishments resumed on Monday after a ban during Singapore's phase two (heightened alert) measures, which kicked in on May 16.
During a visit to North Bridge Road Market and Food Centre yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor told The Straits Times that being able to eat out again is a welcome development, but that there are "considerable risks" associated with dining at public places.
It is thus critical to maintain high standards of cleanliness, she added.
She said: "This is all the more important in light of the recent Bukit Merah View cluster where, currently, it is not possible to rule out the transmission of Covid-19 through the use of common spaces."
When The New Paper visited Kovan 209 Food Centre at lunchtime yesterday, most diners were seen returning the trays on their own.
Student Chin Shu Yee, 18, told TNP she welcomed the move. "Returning my tray after eating is already a habit as we often do so in school. I appreciate the cleaner canteen environment now, and I think we can do the same outside of school too," she said.
Though most diners TNP spoke to said they were aware of the new rules, a few tables were still left uncleared.
Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said that although most Singaporeans are civic-conscious, it will take a long time to change bad habits if Singapore were to "simply let nature take its course".
"There will always be those who are used to having people pick up after them. They may even justify their behaviour by arguing that they do not want to break the poor cleaners' rice bowl by putting them out of a job.
"Hence, there is a need for some strong intervention or, in a softer form, some nudging to expedite the process of change," he explained.
In a statement yesterday, NEA said it has deployed safe distancing ambassadors (SDAs), SG Clean ambassadors, community volunteers and its own officers at hawker centres to remind diners to clear their tables. Posters will also be put up at hawker centres.
From Sept 1 - when the advisory period has ended - patrons who do not clear their trays will be issued a written warning for the first offence.
Those who commit subsequent offences may face composition or court fines of up to $2,000.
Action will not be taken against those who are unable to clear their tables, such as the elderly.
The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) will also work with NEA to roll out enforcement progressively at coffee shops and foodcourts in the fourth quarter of the year.
NEA is working with stakeholders to revise the workflow of cleaners so that they can focus more on sanitising and clearing tray-return stations, instead of clearing dirty plates and food remnants.
More than 75 new tray-return stations will be set up at hawker centres, in addition to the 900 currently available.
However, the efforts of these stakeholders alone are not enough, NEA added.
"Covid-19 has underscored the need for all of us to maintain high public hygiene and cleanliness standards.
"To strengthen environmental public health resilience, we hope the public can practise good hygiene at our public dining places so as to protect other diners and cleaners, many of whom are seniors," said NEA.