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Opinion: It’s Not Difficult To Clean Up After You Eat, Let’s Be More Empathetic

Singaporeans Can Be More Empathetic & Clean Up After Themselves

It’s already hard to find a table in a hawker centre during the lunch or dinner crowd, let alone a clean one.

Chicken bones, spilled soup, and maybe some hungry pigeons then greet you when you finally find a spot to settle down.

Source: Hardware Zone

This is a common occurrence, but does it really need to be?

In Singapore, where cleaners belong to an aging and shrinking workforce, we should think twice about leaving messes behind.

While it may not be your “job”, cleaning up after meals is not only the courteous thing to do but also saves time for everyone including yourself.

Video of diner questioning NEA officers has netizens up in arms

Earlier this month, a man questioned two officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA) if diners should be wiping their tables.

The viral video had people in two camps: those who agreed that we should wipe the table clean before leaving and those who felt like they were slowly being tasked to do the cleaner’s job.

It’s a slippery slope when you start making arguments like “What’s next, are they going to ask us to mop the floor too?”.

Source: Singapore Management University

Poll results of over 2,300 people also revealed that 37% of Singaporeans do not clean their tables in public eateries.

While this is a minority of the respondents, it’s still worrying that some still have reservations about keeping public areas clean.

Instead, we repeatedly fall back on our cleaners to pick up our slack.

Hawker centres might just be short-staffed, help them out a little

In public eateries, diners probably leave a mess hoping that cleaners would attend to it.

However, we may forget that they aren’t superhumans and cannot attend to all the tables at once. What’s more, there’s a shortage of cleaners in Singapore, reported Channel NewsAsia (CNA) in 2021.

In 2022, there were about 59,000 cleaners that oversee our parks, corridors, and hawkers.

Source: The Pride

While the Public Hygiene Council considers this high given our population, you might also need to factor in the number of locations they have to cover.

There are 118 hawker centres alone that need the cleaners’ attention, on top of other public areas.

Safe to say, cleaners in Singapore are likely spread thin.

Cleaners in Singapore are usually the elderly

There’s also another factor to consider, and that is most cleaners are not in the prime of their lives.

According to CNA, the average age for cleaners in Singapore is 60 years old. This is three years short of the retirement age in Singapore.

There are also not many new entrants in this industry, making it hard to keep up with the growing demand.

Source: @nea_sg on Instagram

They don’t earn enough too, especially in this economy. CNA reported that the base pay for cleaners was around S$1,312 in 2022.

This may barely be enough to support themselves, let alone if they have others to care for.

With rising costs of living, most people are working hard to make an honest living — including the elderly.

So if you’re young and able-bodied, it’s not too much to ask for to make their jobs slightly easier.

Cleaning up after ourselves is public etiquette

The issue of cleaning hawker tables has raised much confusion about what’s expected of diners.

As such, NEA has already come forth to set the record straight.

All patrons are to clean up any litter such as used tissues and food remnants. This is in addition to returning their trays and crockery.

Source: Just Click

While errant diners will be fined, there are likely those who slip through the cracks — considering the sheer number of public eateries on the island.

Perhaps to effectively tackle this issue, a change in mindset is needed on top of the existing enforcement.

This can be done through education and appealing through empathy.

Future campaigns akin to the Clean Tables campaign could feature the people who keep our public areas clean.

By doing so, we are putting faces to the otherwise overlooked job that is cleaning. Their stories could then compel more diners to do their part in upholding public cleanliness.

It’s time to stock up on tissue and wet wipes

That said, you don’t need to bring a bucket and a mop to your next meal.

Simply a packet of wet wipes and tissue should be more than enough to clean accidental spillages and the like.

It takes little to no effort to do what you wish others would do for you too, which is to just make sure the table is clean enough to enjoy a meal.

After all, it’s the little things that can make someone’s day better.

Be it taking a little load off our cleaners, or handing over a clean table to the next hungry stranger.

Note: The views expressed within this article are the author’s own.

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Featured image adapted from ANNIE HATUANH on Unsplash for illustration purposes only.

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