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NEA Launches A New Clean Tables Campaign Even As A Review Of The Approach Towards Addressing Table Litter At Public Dining Places Is Underway

06 Feb 2021

Diners are reminded to keep the tables clean after use, and to take personal responsibility for clearing their used tissues and wet wipes, disposables, trays and crockery. New posters and banners will be progressively installed at public dining places, and an intensive education campaign will be rolled out on mass media channels from February 2021, while community engagement through the grassroots and volunteers networks and educational institutions proceed in parallel, to foster greater community ownership to keep public dining places clean.

Singapore, 6 February 2021 – Since December 2020, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has embarked on a review of the approach to table cleanliness at public dining  places. In parallel, given the pressing need to step up the cleanliness of public dining places, NEA has launched a Clean Tables Campaign to remind diners at public dining places to keep the tables clean, by clearing their used tissues and wet wipes, disposable crockery, and returning their trays and used crockery.

2          Common litter found in public dining places, such as used tissues or wet wipes, can become biohazards, as they collect respiratory discharges and sputum that may contain viruses or bacteria. When left lying around, used tissues or wet wipes pose a health risk. Keeping our tables clean will also help reduce hygiene issues related to birds feeding off uncleared plates, bowls, trays and tables, which have become easy food sources for our urban wildlife. In view of the current pandemic, NEA seeks support from the public to address table litter at our public dining places. This is an urgent task, even as the review of our policy and regulatory approaches towards table littering continues.

Towards better public health, more gracious behaviour, and making our cleaners’ jobs easier 

3          Good public and personal hygiene is the first line of defence against diseases. With   Phase 3 of safe re-opening, more people are now dining out. Given the higher risk with F&B activities, the Clean Tables Campaign aims to intensify public education efforts and garner public support to keep the tables clean at public dining places, such as hawker centres, coffeeshops and food courts.

4          Besides safeguarding public health, keeping the tables clean after our meals is also the right thing to do, and shows our graciousness for the next diner. With every diner doing his/her part, this will also make the cleaners’ jobs easier, as they can then focus on their work to clean and disinfect tables, as well as sort and distribute trays and crockery to the stalls. In addition, with the average age of cleaners being 60 years old today, a self-service concept – where diners take care of their own crockery and trays – is a more sustainable way forward to keep our public dining places clean and hygienic.   

Clean Tables Campaign 

5          The Clean Tables Campaign was launched on 6 February 2021 by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at Yuhua Village Hawker Centre and Broadway Coffeeshop at Toh Guan Road. Dr Khor engaged stallholders, diners and cleaners at the premises on the importance of good hygiene practices, such as keeping the tables clean by clearing used tissues and wet wipes, and returning their trays and used crockery. Dr Khor also demonstrated the folding of a paper origami box to hold food remnants, such as discarded bones and shells, as well as used tissues and wet wipes.

6          In-situ reminders, such as posters, banners, visual cues and audio announcements, will be rolled out progressively to all 111 hawker centres, coffeeshops and food courts, from February 2021 (refer to Annex A for sample posters). The campaign will also reach out to the larger community through grassroots advisers, volunteers and educational institutions, to foster greater community ownership of dining places and to encourage diners to keep public dining places clean. In addition, NEA will be engaging some schools and their students to design special table wraps for selected hawker centres. The campaign will also be rolled out via mass media channels, such as TV, print, out-of-home and digital platforms.

7          With the launch of the Clean Tables Campaign, NEA will additionally be installing more tray return racks at hawker centres, and NEA and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) will be working with coffeeshops and foodcourts to improve the infrastructure and systems for keeping tables clean, over the next few months. Cleaners and Safe Distancing Ambassadors (SDAs) have also been encouraged to nudge patrons to clear their trays and used crockery.

Strong public support for diners to keep tables clean, but weak action and practice on the ground at our public dining places

8          At the end of 2020, NEA conducted a survey (refer to Annex B for infographics on the survey results) to gather public opinion and sentiments on public hygiene at our public dining places, such as hawker centres, coffeeshops and foodcourts. About 90 per cent of the respondents indicated that patrons should be required to clear their tables after eating at public dining places. 76 per cent of the respondents indicated that they return their trays and/or used crockery most of the time at public dining places. However the average tray return rate at most hawker centres is currently only around 30 per cent, indicating that the actual practice on the ground does not match up with individual espoused behaviour when it comes to tray return.

9          On the ground, there is also a wide disparity in tray return rates among hawker centres. Hawker centres at Tiong Bahru, Marine Parade Central, Bukit Merah Central, Adam Road, Our Tampines Hub and Kampong Admiralty, have relatively high tray return rates of greater than 60 per cent, compared to the much poorer national tray return rate of less than 30 per cent at most of the other hawker centres. NEA’s other surveys also suggest that the public was more likely to clear their tables if tray return infrastructure is conveniently and prominently located. In addition, larger dining groups were also less likely to return their trays, and may require nudges from cleaners and volunteers to clear their tables. 

10        The above contrasts suggest two things. First, it is possible to achieve a higher tray return rate at our public dining places, with the right combination of good infrastructure, systems, ground practices, and most importantly, strong stakeholders’ support. Second, while diners are willing and know it is the right thing to do to return their trays and used crockery, many could also be influenced by the environment (e.g. how clean or dirty the dining place is) and other diners’ behaviours (i.e. whether other diners are also returning their trays and used crockery). Hence the Clean Tables Campaign aims to address this discrepancy, so that diners put into practice what they know to be the right etiquette and behaviour when dining out.

Clean tables are possible, but this requires everyone to do their part

11        “There is a chasm between what diners think they should do and what diners are actually (not) doing, when it comes to clearing the table of litter and used crockery after their meals. The Clean Tables Campaign aims to bridge this gap. Daunting as it may seem, clean tables at our public dining places can be attained. We have achieved good results at some hawker centres, though not enough to make a difference at the national level. To succeed in levelling-up all public dining places, we need strong support from all stakeholders, including stallholders, cleaning contractors, cleaners, and most of all, diners. Almost all diners already collect their own food and crockery from the food stalls today. It was not always like this, and what it is today is an improved self-service concept from the past. We need to work on diners closing the loop, and adopting a full self-service concept, where diners also return their used crockery and trays to the designated return points after their meals. NEA seeks the support from the public to cooperate with cleaners, as we all work towards the norm of having cleaner tables at our public dining places” said Mr Tan Meng Dui, Chief Executive Officer of NEA.

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Samples of Posters

NEA will be rolling out a series of posters featuring typical diners at public dining premises to educate diners on the right etiquette and behaviour when dining out

Samples of Posters 1Samples of Posters 2
Samples of Posters 3 Samples of Posters 4




Key Findings of Survey on Public Hygiene at Public Dining Places

Key Findings of Survey on Public Hygiene at Public Dining Places