Why it’s a clean sweep for Singapore when it comes to fighting litter

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 8:45pm

I arrived in Hong Kong to start a new job in March 2002. At that time, the city’s cleanliness was pretty poor. Then severe acute respiratory syndrome made its appearance, in February 2003. Team Clean was established in May 2003, and Hong Kong launched a very effective campaign to educate its citizens and clean up the city – with great results.

After nine years in Hong Kong, I moved to a new job in Singapore. I recall remarking to friends that Hong Kong was just as clean as Singapore.

After moving back in 2014 (permanently this time as I recently became a Hong Kong citizen), I realise that Singapore is much cleaner and Hong Kong really needs to clean up its act.

Government data shows Hong Kong has a population of 7.2 million, employs 10,500 street cleaners and has a land mass of 1,104 sq km. This means we have 9.5 cleaners per sq km in our city. On the other hand, Singapore has a population of 5.4 million, employs 56,000 “residential cleaners” and has a land mass of 719 sq km. That means Singapore employs as many as 77.8 cleaners per sq km.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department website states that all streets in Hong Kong are manually swept once per day. This seems extremely unlikely, given the amount of trash visible on the streets, pavements and expressways. We all know that the central business district is clean. But go just a bit outside that zone and you’ll see lots of rubbish on the ground.

It is understood that if a populace is educated not to litter, then fewer cleaners are needed. Team Clean still exists, but seems to be just two paragraphs on the government’s Education Bureau website. We need to do a much better job at educating our citizens and enforcing what the government refers to as a “zero tolerance policy” regarding littering, spitting, and so on.

We love to compare ourselves to Singapore. But Hong Kong is currently way behind the Lion City in terms of clean streets. Stronger anti-littering education is needed, which will result in a cleaner future. Meanwhile, the government needs to step up its cleaning efforts and littering laws to give us a cleaner present.

Michael Featherston, Tiu Keng Leng