Bad habits die hard for diners at hawker centres despite clean drive amid Covid-19
Five months after diners were urged to keep community eating areas clean as part of Singapore’s fight against Covid-19, the results appear patchy.
While some diners at hawker centres and foodcourts make the effort to clean up before and after their meals, most are content to leave this to cleaners.
In February, the SG Clean campaign was launched to raise hygiene standards across the country, particularly at community dining places.
The next month, the campaign was co-opted in Singapore’s fight against the growing pandemic.
Then Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli urged diners not to leave pieces of used tissue inside their bowls, describing them as “little biohazards that you leave on the table”.
A network of SG Clean ambassadors was also launched to coordinate efforts to promote personal hygiene and social responsibility in a bid to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Among other things, the SG Clean task force said diners should consume their food off trays instead of placing bowls and plates directly on tables.
They should also return their dirty dishes and utensils to tray stations, and not leave their used tissue paper behind.
During checks at various hawker centres and coffee shops yesterday, The Straits Times observed that while some diners made the effort to keep their eating area clean – some going so far as to wipe down the table and their utensils – most left this to cleaners.
The places visited included the Serangoon Garden market and hawker centre, Teck Ghee wet market and hawker centre, and the Fei Siong-run Ci Yuan social enterprise hawker centre in Hougang.
On average, eight out of 10 diners did not follow the SG Clean recommendations.
Few kept their bowls and plates on the tray while eating. Most left their crockery and utensils on the table when they finished instead of returning them.
Diners were also seen not only throwing used tissue paper on trays, plates and in bowls, but also leaving them behind on tables and chairs.
Cleaners were hard at work making sure the mess was cleared up.
Only two out of 30 people interviewed said they were aware of the SG Clean guidelines.
One was insurance agent David Goh, 28, who was having breakfast at the Serangoon Garden market and hawker centre. Both Mr Goh and his wife Melissa, 29, a homemaker, were eating off their trays.
“It is just more convenient to eat off the tray for us. If it makes a cleaner’s job easier while keeping the table clean for the next diner, that is a win-win situation,” said Mr Goh.
He added that he and his wife have a habit of returning their trays to the designated areas provided.
Other diners had their own reasons for not eating off trays, but said they were trying their best to keep the tables clean.
Ms Jenny Lim, 56, owner of a clothing store at Teck Ghee market, said that while she cleans the table and utensils with wet wipes before and after eating, she will not eat off the tray because of the “bad smell”.
“Unlike the bowls and utensils which are washed with soap, I see the trays being wiped down with the same dirty cloth that is rinsed in the same bucket, then returned to the stalls right after,” she said.
Most diners were unaware of the recommendation to not leave tissue paper around, and thought it was not their responsibility to return the trays as there were cleaners around.
“The cleaners are here for a reason, and it is their job to clean the tables. I am also not sure where else I should be putting my used tissues, if not in the bowl,” said a university student in his 20s who was at Ci Yuan Hawker Centre.
“What I do is pile my dishes back onto a tray to make it easier to remove, and I think that is more than most people do anyway,” he added.
Among diners who practised good hygiene habits was housewife Theresa Chan, who is in her 50s.
“Even though it might be unpleasant, I think using a tray and returning it helps to lessen the cleaners’ workload,” said Ms Chan, who was having lunch at Teck Ghee market.
She added that good hygiene habits should be inculcated from a young age, and that advising people to keep community dining areas clean should extend beyond the pandemic.
“We should start young and encourage and commend kids when they practise good hygiene, so it becomes second nature when they are older,” she said.
“Though we hope for everyone to practise good hygiene during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, I think it will take a long time for people, old and young alike, to change their habits. We can’t expect this change to be instant, but we should start now,” she added.
Campaign aims to instil national keep clean culture
The SG Clean campaign, which was launched on Feb 16, was meant to “instil a national ‘keep clean culture’.”
The campaign, which was co-opted in March to fight Covid-19, was also aimed at raising public hygiene standards and encouraging individual and social responsibility to maintain cleanliness as Singapore’s first line of defence to reduce the spread of diseases.
The National Environment Agency announced in March that it would train more than 2,000 SG Clean ambassadors who would be progressively deployed at hawker centres and coffee shops.
They would encourage patrons to return their trays and keep tables clean, as well as practise good personal hygiene.
Mr Masagos Zulkifli, then Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, said in June that phase two of Singapore’s re-opening – where people can dine in at food outlets – would be a test of whether habits can be changed.
Diners are currently being reminded by safe distancing ambassadors to pick up after themselves at hawker centres and coffee shops. Mr Masagos has said the Government may also consider having regulations to make this mandatory.
“We may even resort to regulations… we have to see how things evolve,” he said in an interview with The Straits Times and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao that was broadcast on June 19.
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