Singapore has this perpetual problem of getting people to return their food plates and trays to a central collection point unlike say in Japan and South Korea where it is an auto process. And the surprising thing is not that Singaporean don’t know how to return their trays. They do it in schools when young and when they travel to Japan and other countries where it is the culture and practice to do so. So why not in Singapore?
The other day I was returning my tray at a food centre in town. The collection rack nearest to me was full and I remarked on that to a elderly male cleaner. Immediately I got an earful from him which was totally uncalled for.
Unlike the central collection point in overseas restaurants, in our local food courts and food centres, the collection points are just some racks spread out throughout the premises. Unfortunately, these racks are not very big and mostly not cleared so the trays pile up so there is no space for other new trays. The problem here is that the cleaners continue to clear the trays and dishes from the tables and neglect the collection points. Or worse, they bring all the collected trays to these points and leave them there. So if the collection points are full, people got good reason not to return their own tray.
The attitude of the cleaners is another problem leading to this disgusting habit. This is not the first time I got an earful from a cleaner. It has happened a few times at Maxwell food centre. I think these elderly cleaners are fearful they will lose their job if everybody returns their own trays. And if the cleaners continues to scold people who return trays then I guess most people will not be returning their trays any time soon.
Another reason I think we don’t return our trays is that the cleaners remove the trays away and the diners are left with a number of plates and bowls which we can’t possibly stack and bring to the collection point. I make it a habit to return my tray and whatever stuff but I must admit I am stumped at times when the tray is removed or there are no tray as the hawker served the food to the table and I end up with multiple plates of leftover which I do not see how I can managed to bring to the collection points in my office attire if I do not have a tray to put them on.
But of course all these are just excuses. Really the true reason, is most of us Singaporean are lazy and pampered and spoilt by a whole army of doting grandparents and maids and will not lift a finger to return their own trays never mind that they themselves will face the same frustration of getting a clean table to eat at.
So how do we get people to return their own trays? Timbre+ has come up with a deposit system that seems to be working. But I think something like that can only work in a centralised food court where the deposit can be collected from a central location and not in a government run food centre where there is no central point of collection.
Some people have suggested giving some sort of rewards. Again this is difficult to implement in our local food centre. Maybe the Kopitiam or Food Republic chain can do this. Return the tray get a discount slip for the next purchase. But for this to work, the discount must be pretty steep otherwise most people won’t bother.
So what can work? There has been many campaigns. By NEA; by some civic organisation and even some students coming up with all sort of catchy slogans and programs all of which frizzle out to a pre-matured death.
Me think desperate time calls for desperate actions. If reasoning and nice campaign won’t work, perhaps some shock treatment might just do the trick. Stop all the cleaners from clearing the tables and just put them at various central collection points to receive the trays. If diners don’t want to end up at eating at tables stacked with dirty plates and bowls, then they just have to do the clearing themselves. And hopefully, just hopefully they do it long enough, they will get into the habit of doing so. Just like queuing up for the trains. That used to be almost non-existent but it is now a common sight at all the stations. So maybe just maybe one day we will no longer see sights like this: