By Stacey Lim
Return your tray after your meal and the next person will get to enjoy his meal at a clean table.
This simple act of cooperation implemented on campus 19 years ago remains a rare sight. But it looks like the campaign is renewed with earnestness with students and staff making the effort to return their trays.
Mr Phua Kian Peng, speaking on behalf of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Environmental Sustainability Committee, says, “It reminds us that keeping the environment clean is everyone’s responsibility and that we are all part of the environment we live in.”
By clearing our trays, we are showing our commitment to a clean environment. It is also about showing respect to our cleaners and people who use the tables after us.”
– Mr Phua
On the whole, the tray return initiative received the thumbs-up from students and staff.
“It is quite big here [at Makan Place] so it is quite troublesome if the cleaners have to walk around,” Regine Chong, 18, says. She remembers the tray return initiative being a national movement three years ago, and returning her own tray has become a habit for her ever since.
Regine also notes that the positive influence within her circle of friends is a key motivator. “Generally, we all tend to [clear our trays] but sometimes we forget, so we will help each other by reminding each other before we leave [the table],” she says.
A cleaner at Makan Place, Kok Oi Ying, 74, says, “You can say that we are paid to do it, but we are under-staffed. Not just here [in Ngee Ann Polytechnic], but in Singapore [as a whole]. It is not [because] the boss is not willing to employ more, but it is because they cannot find [more] staff.”
She adds, “I think it is just like helping your mother to do housework at home isn’t it? It takes us time to clear the tables and, of course, it is better for others to have a clean table immediately.”
While the tray return initiative has more students and staff responding positively, Mr Phua says that “changing behaviour takes time” and that the tray return initiative will always remain a “work-in-progress”.
“Our cleaners found it difficult to hold back their action of clearing the trays. They needed to be convinced that it is okay to stand back and wait for the trays to come to them. We also learnt that the tray return points need to be further improved to ensure that they are more accessible,” he said.