About 9 in 10 of the 1,402 respondents surveyed felt that diners ought to clear their tables after eating at public dining places where tray return facilities are available
Singapore, 22 January 2021 – In response to recent commentaries and feedback on cleanliness of hawker centres, the National Environment Agency (NEA) conducted a survey to gather public opinion and sentiments on public hygiene at our public dining places such as hawker centres, coffeeshops and foodcourts. The survey was conducted in November and December 2020 by an external survey company via telephone interviews with randomly selected households. A total of 1,402 Singapore residents aged 18 years old and above participated in the survey.
Highlights of survey findings
2 The key findings of the survey are as follows:
a) Clearing tables after eating if tray return facilities are available - A vast majority of respondents felt that patrons should be required to clear their tables after eating at public dining places, such as hawker centres (92%), coffeeshops (85%), food courts (91%) and canteens (92%), if tray return facilities are available (Annex, Section A).
b) Returning of trays and picking up items - About three quarters (76% and 75%) of the respondents indicated that they would return their trays and/or used crockery most of the time, and they would pick up items, such as tissues and chopstick wrappers, when they are blown off or dropped from the table, respectively (Annex, Section B).
c) Clearing food remnants, used tissues and disposable crockery - Among those who did not usually return their trays, more than 70% indicated that they would clear their food remnants and more than 50% would bin their used tissues or wet wipes into a litter bin. However, less than 40% would clear their disposable crockery (Annex, Section C).
d) Public health threat - A large majority agreed that litter left behind on tables poses a public health threat. Specifically, 89% felt that litter left behind on tables poses a public health threat to the next diner or other members of public, while 84% felt that litter left behind on tables poses a public health threat to those working in these dining places (e.g. cleaners and stallholders). However, close to half of the respondents (47%) still felt that clearing one’s own table after eating will deprive cleaners of their jobs (Annex, Section D).
3 These survey results are useful for NEA to better understand the mindset and practices of patrons dining at public dining places. More detailed analysis are ongoing to glean useful inisghts for the formulation of policy responses and interventions. Preliminarily, some key observations and notable discrepancies are apparent.
4 While more than 75% of the respondents indicated that they return their trays and/or used crockery most of the time (please refer to Annex, Section B) at public dining places, the average tray return rate at most hawker centres is currently only around 30%. The latter is despite years of effort to encourage diners to return their trays after meals. In addition, hawker centres which are fairly similar (in size, layout and clientele) can have quite different tray return rates, suggesting that diners’ behaviours are also influenced by their surroundings and what they see around them (e.g. whether other diners return their trays). For example, tray return rates at hawker centres such as Adam Road, Tiong Bahru Market and Kampung Admiralty Hawker Centre are encouraging at between 60-75%, while hawker centres such as Berseh Food Centre, People's Park Food Centre and Tekka Market have very low tray return rates of between 10-25%. While the survey result indicates that actual practice on the ground does not match up with individual espoused behaviour when it comes to tray return, it nonetheless shows that the vast majority of respondents are aware of, and agree on the right etiquette and behaviours when dining out at our public dining places.
5 Most hawker centres already practice a self-service concept today, with diners carrying their own food from the stalls to the tables using trays. However, it is not yet a full self-service model, as about 70% of diners still do not return their used crockery or trays after meals. We should move towards a full self service model to keep the tables at our hawker centres clean, show graciousness to the next diner, and to alleviate manpower challenges faced by the cleaning sector. The average age of the cleaning workforce is 60 years old today, and it will not be sustainable to continue relying on our ageing cleaners’ workforce to pick up after us. Many dining places such as fast food chains, educational institutions and the new operator-managed hawker centres have also successfully applied the full self-service concept in their F&B operations.
6 In addition, close to half (47%) of the respondents still felt that clearing one’s own table after eating will deprive cleaners of their jobs (please refer to Annex, Section D). This is simply not true. Cleaners will not lose their jobs just because diners have become more responsible or gracious. They are still needed to maintain and upkeep the general cleanliness of the dining places, including clearing and sorting the used crockery at the designated tray return points. In fact, keeping tables clean after our meals will actually make the cleaners’ jobs easier, by reducing their workload in having to make frequent rounds to the tables and providing a more sanitary working environment for them.
Take Pride in Our Hawker Culture and Keep our Public Dining Places Safe by Keeping our Dining Places Clean
7 Singapore has received global recognition through our successful inscription of Hawker Culture in Singapore on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. However, we must go beyond celebrating just the food, hawkers or even the special, social bonding role of our hawker culture, to also ensure that the place of our Hawker Culture, viz, hawker centres, remains clean, safe and a place that all Singaporeans will be proud of.
8 NEA launched a Tray Return Programme last July to remind patrons to return all used crockery and trays after their meals to keep the tables clean for the next patron. This will also ensure that there are no food remnants for birds to feed on, or litter such as used tissues or wet wipes left behind which can pose a risk to others who have to handle them or when they contaminate surfaces that they come into contact with. Since June 2020, SG Clean Ambassadors have also been deployed to hawker centres to advise patrons to not only return their trays and used crockery, but also to properly dispose of their used tissues and wet wipes. While about 70% of diners would comply with our ambassadors’ advice when we first started, this proportion has progressively come down to about 50%. More work is needed to increase the tray return rate and ensure table cleanliness at our hawker centres.
9 In view of Phase 3 Re-opening, and with more dining out taking place at our public dining places, NEA will be reviewing our approach to achieve a high level of cleanliness in our public dining places. The survey results, along with other feedback and considerations, will help to inform this review and measures to address table litter at our public dining places.
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Key Findings of Survey on Public Hygiene at Public Dining Places
Q: Assuming that tray return facilities are available, at which of the following eating establishments should patrons be required to clear their tables after eating?
Q: When having a meal at hawker centres/ coffeeshops/ food courts, which of the following actions do you perform after your meal?
Q: I do not usually return trays and/or used crockery to the stall/tray return station/rack, but I do the following:
Q: Do you agree to the following statements, with respect to dining tables in hawker centres, coffeeshops and/or food courts?