Singapore

More hawker centres may have tray deposit system to boost productivity

System, already implemented at two centres, is part of push to boost productivity

A system of charging customers a deposit that will be forfeited if they do not return food trays may be rolled out at up to 25 hawker centres in coming years, despite mixed reviews over its effectiveness.

It is part of a government push to boost productivity in hawker centres amid tightening manpower constraints, attract younger Singaporeans to enter the profession and promote gracious behaviour.

An automated tray return system has been implemented at Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre and Bukit Merah Hawker Centre since last month, where stallholders there charge customers 50 cents and $1 for each tray taken respectively.

Such a system could also be implemented in another 23 existing hawker centres managed by the National Environmental Agency (NEA) as part of its efforts to make hawker centres more productive, which includes centralised dishwashing services.

There are 114 hawker centres and markets managed by the NEA or through NEA-appointed managing agents.

Visiting the Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre yesterday to view the two initiatives, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, said they would help boost the overall business of hawker centres.

She said they would "reduce the workload on the hawkers so they can concentrate on food preparation and cooking, which is their core business activity".

"(It also) ensures that they will continue to have a steady supply of clean cutlery and crockery even during peak hours," added Dr Khor.

REDUCE WORKLOAD

The two initiatives are part of the recommendations submitted last year by the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee, which aim to help reduce the hawkers' workload and overcome manpower challenges.

Tray return systems involving a deposit is not new, with the Timbre Group implementing a similar system at its food hall Timbre+ in one-north and at the Yishun Park Hawker Centre.

Other attempts to boost the average tray return rate of about 20 per cent to 30 per cent included a reward points scheme.

But hawker centre patrons are divided over the system.

Childcare teacher Chua Kim Choo, 65, said that even though the initiative helps to keep the tables clean, it can be tough for older people with difficulties walking to return their trays.

"There should be more tray return areas around the hawker centre so it is more convenient for such customers," she added.

But marketing manager Erica Li, 34, said she does not find it a hassle to return trays.

"I like the concept because I believe you should clean up after yourself," she said.

Public Hygiene Council chairman Edward D'Silva said giving disincentives to promote tray return is a stop-gap measure for existing hawker centres. For new hawker centres, design is paramount, such as by ensuring the tray return area is accessible from all seats and by using prominent signage to direct people to tray return areas.

Some hawkers are concerned the dishwashing service could add to their costs, though they welcome the convenience.

Hawkers have to pay for the service, believed to cost three cents for every piece of crockery and cutlery. NEA will pay for up to 70 per cent of the operating costs for two years.

Mr Ng Yian Beng, 55, owner of a fishball noodle stall, said: "It is more expensive than washing the dishes ourselves, but at least we do not lose our cutlery or get them mixed up with other stalls."

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