Person cleaning the toilet

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) launched the Clean Public Toilets Campaign 2023 on Tuesday, Nov 21, at the One Punggol Hawker Centre. Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and the Environment, Baey Yam Keng, officially launched the campaign in collaboration with the Public Hygiene Council (PHC), Restroom Association Singapore (RAS), and Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM).

This year’s campaign introduces a new initiative to foster cleanliness habits from a young age. As part of the Buddy Clean Workshop programme, NEA will pilot a toilet cleanliness module for primary school students starting next year. The programme focuses on Primary 3 and 4 students and aims to instil positive social values and norms related to cleanliness.

NEA’s decision to involve young students in toilet cleanliness aligns with a recent study conducted by Singapore Management University (SMU) about an improvement in the cleanliness of hawker centre toilets while highlighting that coffee shop toilets are still as dirty as they were three years ago, contributing to an overall unfavourable perception of public toilets.

Baey Yam Keng, while launching the campaign, stressed the importance of individual responsibility, stating, “All the years, the campaign has been basically building public responsibility that is in us to keep our toilets clean.” He acknowledged the challenges smaller establishments like coffee shops face but emphasised the significance of users’ mindsets in contributing to cleanliness.

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The theme for this year’s Clean Public Toilets Campaign is “Are you nice when no one’s around? Do it right for everyone.” NEA explained that this theme aims to promote social consciousness and encourage desirable actions like ‘Clean, Flush, Dry, Bin’ by public toilet users.

Baey Yam Keng addressed the scepticism revealed by the SMU study, saying, “I think (the SMU study) gives us a good indicator of the state of play today.” He noted that the campaign employs a “carrot and stick” approach to motivate individuals to take toilet cleanliness seriously.

Buddy Clean Workshop Programme for Primary School Students

The PHC, a consistent supporter of the campaign since 2021, will introduce a toilet cleanliness module as part of the Buddy Clean Workshop programme for primary school students. Andrew Khng, PHC chairman, explained that the module would involve practical skills, with students actively participating in cleaning school toilets. The goal is to expand the programme to all primary schools as a regular module.

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Michelle Tay, SKM director, suggested that infrastructure issues might influence the state of coffee shop toilets, stating, “If the toilet is not maintained properly, or if the systems there are not even up to date, the flush is not working, there is no toilet paper … Those are already fixed structures that the users can’t control, but what can we do as fellow toilet users? That’s the second part of it, which I think SKM feels the importance of. How can we all take ownership of our shared spaces and then encourage … good behaviour?”

The Restroom Association Singapore (RAS) also provided an update on its Let’s Observe Ourselves (LOO) Campaign @ Hawker Centres, which was launched in 2021. RAS President Ho Chee Kit reported, “Since launching the LOO (Let’s Observe Ourselves) Campaign @ Hawker Centres in 2021, we have reached out to 80 hawker centres. Educational tissue packets on showing kindness to cleaning attendants were distributed to more than 25,000 public patrons, garnering more than 1,200 online pledges to keep hawker centre toilets clean. With the launch of the LOO Campaign @ Coffeeshops on 16 November this year, we look forward to continued support from all stakeholders.”

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Despite these efforts, Channel News Asia mentioned that Madam Li Xiu Mei, a cleaner at One Punggol Hawker Centre, highlighted ongoing challenges, including users not flushing, washing feet with bidets, and even leaving faeces around toilet bowls. When asked for suggestions, Madam Li emphasised the need for additional help, stating, “One more person to help clean (would help). I’m used to working alone but if there was one more person to help me at the same time then my job would be easier.”

As the Clean Public Toilets Campaign 2023 unfolds, it aims to raise awareness and actively involve the younger generation in promoting a cleaner public toilet environment. The success of these initiatives will depend on Singaporeans’ collaborative effort. /TISG