Man, 80, in Chinatown warned by NEA for not returning tray: 'I had impression there was no need'

Lynda Hong, Chen Xinyi and BNB Diviyadhaarshini
The Straits Times
June 1, 2023

At least one person received a written warning on Thursday, when the National Environment Agency (NEA) tightened enforcement measures against those who do not return their trays at hawker centres, foodcourts and coffee shops.

Speaking in Mandarin, the elderly diner, who was at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, said he seldom visits the food centre and had gone there after his doctor’s appointment.

Claiming to be unfamiliar with the location of the tray return shelves and that the signs to them were not visible to him, the 80-year-old man, who wished to be known only as Mr Huang, alleged that the previous diner had also left behind a tray and crockery at his table.

“Hence, I had the impression that there was no need to return the tray,” he told reporters who were accompanying plain-clothes NEA officers on their rounds at the food centre.

Earlier, at Kebun Baru Food Centre, three groups of diners were seen wandering around with their used trays looking for the tray return station.

While posters to encourage diners to return their trays were put up, there were no signs to direct them to the tray return shelves, which were located in a corner away from the dining area.

However, only one table was seen with uncleared trays.

A diner, who wished to be known only as Ms Tan, told The Straits Times that she began clearing and returning her trays after the regulations were first imposed in May 2021, as she did not want to be fined. Thus, the tightened regulations did not make a difference to her.

The NEA had announced that from Thursday, NEA and Singapore Food Agency enforcement officers will record the particulars of diners who do not return their used trays, crockery and other litter, instead of first reminding them to do so before issuing a written warning for non-compliance.

First-time offenders will be issued a written warning, while second-time offenders face a $300 composition fine. Subsequent offenders may face court fines of up to $2,000 for the first conviction.

At the Koufu foodcourt at Toa Payoh HDB Hub, the crowd picked up in the late morning.

While most tables were occupied, at least four with leftover crockery and litter on them were conspicuously vacant. 

A cleaner who spoke to ST said some customers mistakenly assume they do not need to clear their tables because they see her clearing the plates and tray return shelves. 

“Usually I do that quite fast, so I think some people who see me doing it think I’ll do it for them, and they just leave without cleaning up,” said the cleaner, who declined to be named. 

Mr Suhaizat Aizat, 21, a cleaner at Telok Blangah Food Centre, said many diners clear and return their plates only after reminders from the cleaners to do so.

“We have to tell customers many times each day to return their plates,” he said. “Although most customers return their plates, sometimes the diners coming in will still complain to us that the tables are not clean.” 

A cleaner at a coffee shop at Block 226D Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1, who did not want to be named, said diners do ask her to clear left-behind trays at tables.

The 62-year-old said: “The people who want to sit at the table come to me to ask me to clean it, but that is not their fault. I don’t expect them to clean other people’s mess.”

The Straits Times

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