SINGAPORE: Having to pay a tray deposit when buying food at a hawker centre might happen more frequently in future as up to 25 hawker centres will install an automated tray return system (ATRS) over the next few years.
This comes after the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced in March last year that initiatives such as ATRS and centralised dishwashing services would be introduced in hawker centres to boost productivity.
With the ATRS, cleaners will be able to focus on cleaning tables instead of having to clear the plates and cutlery left behind. This allows for a faster turnaround of tables, said the agency.
So far, two hawker centres managed by NEA, located at Marsiling Mall and Block 163, Bukit Merah Central, have implemented this system. At Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre, customers have to pay a S$0.50 tray deposit when they buy their food, while at Bukit Merah Hawker Centre, the tray deposit is S$1.
Customers will receive their deposit once they return their tray with the plates, bowls and cutlery.
To remind diners to return their trays, posters have also been put up around the hawker centres.
Speaking to reporters during a visit of Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre, Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor acknowledged that getting people into the habit of returning their trays after eating would take time.
"Changing the behaviour and mindset of the public will take time and it will take patience. The success of the tray return system, within a community like this Marsiling area, really depends on the graciousness and the considerate behaviour of the community,” said Dr Khor, who is also Senior Minister of State for Health.
“We need to sustain this and of course, continue to encourage the community to support this," she added.
CENTRALISED DISHWASHING SERVICE
Besides the ATRS, NEA hawker centres will also have a centralised dishwashing service to wash the soiled crockery and cutlery.
For Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre, this service is provided through an on-site facility with industrial-scale automated dishwashing machines. Each machine is able to wash and sterilise up to 50 pieces of crockery and cutlery per minute, with minimal help from cleaners.
Stallholders have to pay according to the amount of crockery and cutlery they need each day, and to encourage more to adopt the initiative, NEA will co-fund up to 70 per cent of the operating costs for two years.
"It saves me several hours because, in the past, I would have to wash the dishes and also clean the tray," said Ms Lim Shi Qi, a noodle stall employee in Marsiling.
Mr Joseph Tok, who runs a beverage stall, said: "I don't have to clean so much now and can go home earlier to rest."
Cooked food stallholders can also apply for the Hawkers’ Productivity Grant to improve their productivity, NEA said.
Under this scheme, NEA will co-fund the purchase of suitable kitchen automation equipment for three years. Each stallholder will be able to claim 80 per cent of the unit cost of the equipment, up to a total of S$5,000 within a three-year period.
As of Jan 19, 34 applications for the grant have been approved. Some of the equipment purchased include food processors and sugar cane press machines.