SINGAPORE: Singaporeans on social media aren’t happy about a recent proposal to require diners to wipe down tables after meals at food outlets.

Following a public cleanliness survey, researchers suggested cultivating a “stronger sense of responsibility for public cleanliness” among Singapore residents and reducing costs and the need for more cleaning services.

The Straits Times reported that the mandatory tray return policy, implemented in 2021, has already catalysed shifts in social norms regarding cleanliness at food outlets.

Now, researchers suggest equipping diners with tissue paper or tablecloths to wipe down tables after eating, fostering a culture of proactive cleanliness.

2023 Survey finds over 80% of Singaporeans are willing to clean up or wipe down their tables at food outlets

According to findings from the Public Cleanliness Satisfaction Survey 2023 conducted by Singapore Management University (SMU), over 80% of respondents expressed willingness to clean up spills or wipe down tables.

However, a significant portion cited the lack of proper equipment as a hindrance, highlighting the potential effectiveness of providing resources, like tablecloths or tissue papers, for diners to maintain cleanliness.

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Despite the high percentage of respondents returning trays and crockery (94% in 2023), satisfaction rates with cleanliness at food outlets remained relatively low compared to other public spaces.

In 2023, satisfaction rates for food outlets stood at 85%.

Other public spaces such as transportation hubs, leisure destinations, neighbourhood areas, commuter paths, and public events boasted higher satisfaction rates ranging from 88% to 98%.

The study, funded by the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE), surveyed 2,010 Singapore residents’ perceptions of cleanliness in the city-state from November 2023 to January 2024.

At a media briefing, researchers suggested simple behavioural nudges, such as visual aids for proper waste disposal and QR code feedback systems at trash disposal areas.

These measures aim to cultivate a stronger sense of responsibility among residents for public cleanliness, reducing the reliance on cleaning services and associated costs.

Singaporeans on social media react

However, not all Singaporeans are enthusiastic about the proposal. Some social media users on r/singapore voiced their discontent, questioning the necessity of such measures.

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One user remarked, “What rubbish is this? Next, we cook the food ourselves?” Another suggested, “Might as well help to empty the rubbish and clean the toilets, right?”

Others expressed concerns about the impact on employment, advocating for the continuation of employing workers to maintain cleanliness.

“What’s wrong with continuing to employ aunties and uncles to clean tables and maintain the tray returns? They want to work, and generally do a good job,” one user commented.

The Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) has designated 2024 as the Year of Public Hygiene, signalling a renewed focus on improving cleanliness standards.

Measures such as publicising photos of litterbugs and enhancing public toilet facilities are being considered as part of the initiative.

As Singapore navigates these discussions on public cleanliness, balancing communal responsibility and practicality is the challenge.

While some embrace the idea of diners taking a more active role in maintaining hygiene, others question the implications for existing social norms and employment dynamics.

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As Professor of Sociology Ms Paulin Tay Straughan from SMU says, “If the whole community could step up to flesh out ideas, we could move a long way. My encouragement to Singaporeans is, don’t wait for the next law to come out.

This is our space, and we should take charge of it.” /TISG

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