SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) will take enforcement action against diners at hawker centres who leave dirty trays, crockery and litter on their tables from Sep 1, the agency said on Friday (May 14).
First-time offenders will receive a written warning. Second-time offenders will face a composition fine of S$300, while subsequent offenders may face court fines, said NEA.
To help diners familiarise and adjust to the new measures, this will be preceded by a three-month advisory period from Jun 1 to Aug 31.
No enforcement action will be taken during the advisory period. Safe distancing ambassadors, SG Clean ambassadors, community volunteers and NEA officers will remind diners to clear their tables. Visual cues such as posters and banners will be installed as reminders, said NEA.
READ: Put your tray away: 7 things to know about clearing your table at hawker centres, coffee shops and food courts
The agency is also setting up more tray return infrastructure across all hawker centres to support diners.
ENFORCEMENT FROM SEPTEMBER
From Sep 1, enforcement officers will continue to advise diners to clear their tables. Officers will then take action against diners who do not heed their advice.
The Singapore Food Agency will also work with NEA to progressively roll out enforcement at coffee shops and food courts in the fourth quarter of the year.
NEA is not enacting a new law for the enforcement action, as leaving litter on dining tables is enforceable as a littering offence under the Environmental Public Health Act, said the agency.
"However, NEA will take a pragmatic posture, such as enforcing against diners who do not heed advice by enforcement officers to clear their dirty trays, crockery and litter after dining," it added.
In response to queries from CNA, the agency said the advisory period for table littering will remain from Jun 1 to Aug 31. This takes into account the suspension of dining-in from Sunday through Jun 13.
NEA said it will continue to "monitor the situation on the ground" and will introduce further adjustments if needed, to be in line with prevailing measures to minimise the transmission of COVID-19.
PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS, PAST EDUCATIONAL EFFORTS
The enforcement action follows extensive educational efforts over the years to change the behaviour and mindsets of diners, including the launch of the Clean Tables Campaign in February, said NEA.
Clearing the table "shows consideration for the next diner, and allows cleaners to focus on the most important task of cleaning and disinfecting tables", said the agency.
READ: Change in mindsets, establishing norms needed to get diners to return their trays, say experts
The self-service approach is also a more sustainable way of keeping dining places safe and clean, it said.
"This is especially given the tight cleaning workforce comprising a majority of seniors who may be more vulnerable to diseases such as COVID-19."
NEA said that the pandemic has underscored the need for all to maintain high public hygiene and cleanliness standards.
"Various members of the public and institutions, such as the Public Hygiene Council, have called for stronger levers including legislation to raise table cleanliness standards at public dining places," it said.
READ: Leaving behind trays, food debris at hawker centres could expose others to diseases: Health experts
The average tray and crockery return rate has seen only a "nominal improvement" from 33 per cent to 35 per cent after the Clean Tables Campaign was launched, said NEA.
This was despite 76 per cent of respondents in a survey conducted by NEA in March indicating that they return their trays and dirty crockery most of the time.
"This shows that actual practice on the ground does not match up with individual espoused behaviour," said the agency.
"With only slight improvements being achieved thus far after much effort on education and outreach, a stepped-up advisory and enforcement approach will help raise our public hygiene standards at public dining places, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic."
These efforts will help Singapore to "transition to a more socially conscious, self-service concept where diners clear their dirty trays, crockery and litter, and leave behind a clean table for the next patron", said NEA.
"This will allow us to enjoy our meals in a clean and hygienic environment and better safeguard ourselves against any public health risks."