Sunday 16 May 2021

Return used trays and crockery: Fines for hawker centre diners who do not clear their tables from 1 September 2021

Mandatory for diners to return trays, clear own litter from 1 June 2021
Advisory period from 1 June to 31 August 2021, enforcement action to be taken from 1 September 2021
Singapore Food Agency will work with NEA to roll out enforcement progressively at coffeeshops and food courts in the fourth quarter of the year
By Adeline Tan, The Straits Times, 15 May 2021

It will be mandatory for diners to return their trays and clear their table litter from June 1, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday.

Table litter includes used tissues and wet wipes, straws, canned drinks, plastic bottles and food remnants.

In an effort to help diners adjust, no enforcement action will be taken until after Aug 31. During the three months, they will only be advised to follow the rule.

From Sept 1, enforcement action will be taken against those who do not comply with advice to clean up after themselves at hawker centres.

First-time offenders will be given a written warning. Second-time offenders will face a $300 composition fine, and subsequent offenders may face court fines, which can go up to $2,000 for the first conviction.

The Singapore Food Agency will also work with NEA to roll out enforcement progressively at coffee shops and foodcourts in the fourth quarter of this year.

NEA said the move, which comes amid a public health crisis, follows years of extensive educational efforts to change the behaviour and mindsets of diners at public places.

Its deputy chief executive of public health and director-general of public health Chew Ming Fai said: "We've been talking about these clean tables since 2013, and there's been a lot of education effort that has been put out over the years."

One example is the Clean Tables Campaign launched in February.

Mr Chew said: "Following that exercise, we've seen a small uptick in terms of tray return rates from 33 per cent to 35 per cent, but unfortunately I don't think that is significant enough."

NEA will be setting up more tray return infrastructure across the hawker centres.

Currently, there are about 900 tray return racks installed across 111 hawker centres.

During the advisory period, safe distancing ambassadors, SG Clean ambassadors, community volunteers and NEA officers deployed at hawker centres will continue to remind diners to clear their dirty trays, crockery and litter.

Visual cues such as posters and banners will also be progressively put up at hawker centres.

NEA said Covid-19 has underscored the need to maintain high public hygiene and cleanliness standards, and various members of the public and institutions have called for stronger measures to raise cleanliness standards, including the use of legislation.

Clearing dirty trays, crockery and table litter will protect not only other diners but also the cleaners, who are usually elderly folk.

Mr Chew said that while enforcement efforts will not be scaled back even after Covid-19, NEA will monitor the ground situation and make adjustments accordingly.

He said: "This is a long-term goal to raise public hygiene and cleanliness levels in Singapore. Even as we tackle the current Covid-19 crisis, we believe that this measure will be something that we need to put in place for the longer term."

* More than 4,500 diners reminded to return trays as dining in resumes at food centres on 21 June 2021
By Adeline Tan, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2021

Enforcement officers spoke to thousands of diners at hawker centres about returning their trays to tray stations, after dining in was allowed to resume on Monday.

Speaking at North Bridge Road Market and Food Centre yesterday morning, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor said officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA) had advised more than 4,500 diners not to forget to return their trays.

When The Straits Times visited three hawker centres yesterday, most diners were seen returning trays on their own.

More than 10 people were seen returning their trays and cutlery to tray stations at the North Bridge Road food centre, while only a few did not do so at the Clementi 448 Market and Food Centre.

NEA officers were seen at two of the three hawker centres.

Diners have had to return their trays and clear their tables of litter since June 1, but no enforcement action will be taken until after Aug 31, as part of an effort to help diners adjust, the NEA had said on May 14.

Dining in at eateries resumed on Monday after being disallowed during Singapore's phase two (heightened alert) measures, which kicked in on May 16.

While being able to eat out again is a welcome development, Dr Khor said, there are "considerable risks" associated with dining at public places and it is critical to maintain high standards of cleanliness.

She said: "This is all the more important in the 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."

From Sept 1, enforcement action will be taken against those who do not clear their trays at hawker centres, a move that comes after years of extensive educational efforts to change the behaviour and mindsets of diners.

First-time offenders will be given a written warning, and subsequent offences may result in fines.

Action will not be taken against those unable to clear their tables, such as the elderly.

Enforcement will be progressively rolled out at coffee shops and foodcourts in the fourth quarter of this year.

Dr Khor said the NEA is also working with stakeholders, such as cleaning companies, to revise the table cleaning workflow for cleaners.

The new workflow will focus on cleaning and sanitising of tables and managing tray return stations.

Most diners, hawkers and cleaners said they knew that returning trays is now mandatory.

They welcomed the move, although some diners had mixed feelings about it.

Mr Muru Nagaraju, 52, a freelance corporate trainer, said: "I'm very happy, but also a bit sad. I thought that Singaporeans would be civic-minded enough without having this law. Hopefully, people will start returning their trays more."

Ms Rachel Cheng said she was not aware that it was now mandatory, despite returning her tray after her meal. The 32-year-old, who works in e-commerce, said: "Giving people fines seems a bit heavy-handed. It is a good social norm to cultivate but fines do seem punitive."

Hawkers and cleaners believe the new move benefits everyone.

Ms Saadah Zulkifli, 24, who runs a satay stall in Clementi, said: "Sometimes the cleaner will need time to clear the plates. There are tables in front of my store and it is unhygienic because birds will come and pick at the leftover food on the plates."

Some cleaners said that while more people have been returning trays, many diners still do not have the habit of clearing table litter, such as food remnants, while others are uncooperative.

Mr Ng Tian Sang, 70, works as a cleaner at the North Bridge Road food centre.

He said: "Sometimes, diners still tell us that as long as we are cleaners, it is our job to clear the tables for them."

Additional reporting by Cha Hae Won and Baey Zo-er

Tougher laws to complement education on cleanliness welcome

We agree with Ms Aneesa Rehana (Ads on clearing tables should focus on empathy instead of fines, June 16) that we need to engage Singaporeans and help them understand the impact of their actions.

Since 2013, the Public Hygiene Council has conducted many campaigns and outreach activities on the importance and impact of practising good hygiene and cleanliness habits.

After many years of public education and communications, this lack of civic-mindedness in Singapore remains.

The feedback by Ms Jennifer Lee Hui Chuen on the litter found in Pulau Ujong says it all (Amount of rubbish at Pulau Ujong breakwater is striking, June 16).

Ms Ashlyn Chua (New law is worthwhile if it ingrains habit of clearing trays in people, June 28) correctly pointed out that there was insignificant improvement when we used campaigns and reminders to nudge Singaporeans into adopting good hygiene habits.

If the end justifies the means and can finally resolve the longstanding issue, we should implement harsher measures.

According to a behavioural study on littering that was conducted late last year, there are many Singaporeans who are indifferent, or who think it is not their job to clean.

It is difficult to change these mindsets through education and persuasion alone.

Making it mandatory for diners to clear their table and return their trays is long overdue. By focusing on fines, the Government has brought back what had worked well before.

The council has long advocated a persuade-and-penalise approach to make keeping Singapore clean a way of life.

We welcome the tougher laws to complement our educational efforts.

Edward D'Silva
Chairman, Public Hygiene Council


**  The average Tray and Crockery Return Rate (TCRR) at hawker centres is 93 per cent in April 2024, above the 65 per cent in August 2021 before the start of table littering enforcement

Good habits needed to tackle increasingly important challenge of public hygiene: DPM Heng
By Elise Wong, The Straits Times, 12 Jun 2024

Efforts to make sure diners return their used trays and crockery at hawker centres, coffee shops and foodcourts are paying off, with more than nine in 10 observed to clean up after themselves in April 2024.

This is up from the 65 per cent tray and crockery return rate noted in August 2021, before warnings and fines were issued from the following month.

The update came from the National Environment Agency (NEA) and Singapore Food Agency (SFA) on June 12, alongside the launch of the annual Go Green SG campaign, a nationwide movement led by the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE).

In its second edition, the campaign aims to rally citizens, organisations and the community to take action for more sustainable living. This year’s focus is on public cleanliness, in alignment with the 2024 Year of Public Hygiene as designated by MSE.

Those who did not return their used trays and crockery, as well as clear their tables, could face fines of up to $2,000 for repeat offences.

Enforcement began in September 2021, with patrons receiving verbal warnings from officers if they did not clean up after themselves. This was followed by written warnings for repeat violations.

From June 2023, verbal warnings were no longer issued, and diners who left dirty and uncleared tables received written warnings even for first offences. More than 5,000 written warnings were issued to first-time offenders of table littering over the past year.

Only nine were repeat offenders, who were issued fines.

Speaking at the launch of Go Green SG 2024 at Republic Polytechnic on June 12, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that the success of the tray return scheme was achieved through a mix of enforcement, good infrastructure and public education.

“This was done through enforcement of table-littering regulations, and also through partnerships with town councils, hawker centre operators and cleaning contractors to optimise tray return infrastructure, and to make it easy for the public to do this.”

NEA said it will work with hawkers’ associations, town councils, operators and cleaning contractors, to make further infrastructural adjustments, such as shifting less-used racks to more popular return points, or utilising mobile trolleys to create additional tray and crockery return points when required.

DPM Heng said public hygiene has become an increasingly important challenge as cities grow and become denser.

This includes maintaining a hygienic environment, clean air and water, and safe food production systems.

“So, it is very apt that MSE has designated 2024 as the Year of Public Hygiene, after recent campaigns on climate action and zero waste.”

MSE designated 2018 as the Year of Climate Action to raise awareness on the need to take collective action to fight climate change, and 2019 as the Year Towards Zero Waste to build national consciousness to care for the environment.

In his speech, DPM Heng also highlighted the need for individuals to play their part in maintaining public hygiene, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic, which demonstrated its importance in preventing the spread of disease.

“Public hygiene has been fundamental to the liveable home that we enjoy today,” he said.

“To inculcate good habits, it is important we start from a young age, at home and in school, and adults must serve as good role models.”

Members of the public can take part in more than 360 activities organised by 180 partners for Go Green 2024, including guided tours at the National Centre for Food Science for insights into food safety, and at PUB’s WaterHub to learn about sewage systems.

Other activities include plastic upcycling workshops conducted by local companies like Semula, and vermicomposting kit assembly workshops by Changi Airport Group.

The launch was also attended by Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Baey Yam Keng, and various public and private sector partners.

Go Green SG 2024 will run till July 14, coinciding with the school holidays to better accommodate families’ participation.

Members of the public can register online for the various Go Green SG activities at


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