SINGAPORE: On Tuesday (Oct 17), the National Environment Agency (NEA) clarified that diners are not obligated to wipe their tables at public eating areas.
However, they emphasized that leaving behind litter on or around the tables is not permissible.
This clarification from the agency was prompted by a video circulating on social media, showcasing an encounter between two individuals claiming to be NEA enforcement officers and a diner outside Tekka Market and Hawker Centre on Saturday.
The dispute regarding the specifics of new regulations for cleaning public dining areas has brought attention to a potential discrepancy or misinterpretation within these rules by the two officers.
Confusion over requirement to wipe tables clean alongside tray returns
A diner, identified as Pankaj, recently took to TikTok to recount his disagreement with two individuals purporting to be NEA enforcement officers regarding the regulations.
In the video, he challenged the two officers about the extent of the diner’s responsibility in cleaning the table, particularly concerning food or drink spillages.
While Pankaj believed the mandate only required diners to clear solid waste and return trays and utensils, the officers insisted that diners should also wipe the table clean of any spills.
The heated exchange between Pankaj and the officers revolves around the clarification and perhaps the ambiguity of the guidelines, “Are you saying to me that if I dirty the table, I am supposed to wipe the table?”
Pankaj was recorded saying. The officers affirmed, adding that it is indeed the responsibility of diners to ensure the table is clear and clean after their meal.
The viral video has sparked an influx of online reactions, leaving many netizens both surprised and perplexed by the extent of the cleaning obligations.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday (17 Oct), the NEA addressed the video involving the NEA enforcement officer and a diner outside Tekka Market and Hawker Centre.
The agency confirmed issuing a warning to the diner for not clearing his glass and drink can upon leaving the table.
NEA reiterated that while wiping tables is not mandatory, it emphasizes that leaving any litter behind, such as tissues, wet wipes, drink cans, shells, or bones, is unacceptable.
“We encourage diners to keep the table clean as a gesture of courtesy to the next diner, “ added NEA.
NEA’s Clean Tables Campaign
In May 2021, the NEA mandated that diners in public places must clear their tables of used trays, crockery, and litter after meals, in line with Section 17(1) of the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA).
Offences under this section could invite a range of penalties, including fines up to S$2,000.
As of 1 June 2023, first-time offenders who don’t return their used items will receive a written warning, second-time offenders will be slapped with a S$300 composition fine, and further offences could incur court fines.
A review of previous NEA announcements and news reports, including a joint press release on 30 August 2021, reveals no explicit mention of the obligation for diners to wipe tables clean of spillages, indicating a possible miscommunication or misinterpretation of the regulations in place.
The NEA’s statement did mention that it constitutes an offence if a diner clears their tray and dirty crockery but neglects to remove items such as tissues, empty drink cans, and food remnants like shells and bones from the dining table. Furthermore, the NEA emphasized that allowing litter to be blown onto the floor in a public place without picking it up constitutes a littering offence.
Regarding situations where gravy or drink is accidentally spilled on the dining table, the NEA, as stated in the August 2021 press release, expressed a “pragmatic approach” to enforcement.
“NEA will not take enforcement action for such instances. As much as practicable, diners can help to clean the spilled gravy or drink and keep the table clean.”
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