The finding in a survey released this month, that 36 per cent of those polled were unsure whether trays should be returned in food establishments, has sparked lively debate in the Forum pages of this newspaper. One reader has argued that Singapore has strict anti-littering laws which are enforced against recalcitrant litterbugs. If it is an offence to discard used tissue paper on pathways, then there should also be a penalty for leaving the same item on hawker centre tables. Hence the need for laws to be expanded to include leaving trays and other leftovers in public places. So goes the argument. Of course, the counter-argument is that leftovers on trays and tables are not litter and so do not fall within the ambit of the law. To bring these into that ambit would appear to stretch the argument. It would be better to persist with the persuasive approach to change social behaviour.
Returning trays clears space for others, which is a necessity particularly during lunch and dinner periods in hawker centres and foodcourts. It reduces the burden on cleaners, not least the elderly, who can work faster and more efficiently after trays and crockery have been placed at receiving stations. Importantly, the returning of trays prevents pigeons and other birds from feeding off uneaten food. This common occurrence is a health hazard – and concerns about health have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 outbreak.