Ugly scenes: Over 100 tonnes of rubbish left at one cinema in a year

Lim Jia Qi Channel NewsAsia 31 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE: It was a typical Saturday evening and the cinema at VivoCity was packed with moviegoers. Some were queueing for tickets while others were streaming into the theatre with popcorn and soda in hand.

One of the cinema halls, which has a seating capacity of 600, was about half full. The faint sound of people munching on popcorn and potato chips could be heard as many were enjoying a snack to enhance their movie experience.

At the end of the film, the theatre's lights were switched on to help people find their way to the exit. But the lights revealed something else - piles of rubbish on the floor, left there by careless customers.

The lights were also the signal for cleaning supervisor Teo Thian Nan and two colleagues to swing into action. They had been on standby at the back of the theatre, waiting to move in to clear up the trash before the next screening. To make things more challenging, they had less than half an hour to do so.

While some customers remembered to toss their trash into the six dustbins located near the exit, discarded popcorn boxes and empty drink cups were a common sight. Armed with a large trash bag, the trio got to work. The two cleaners marched up and down each aisle picking up litter left behind by moviegoers while 60-year-old Mr Teo swept up spilled popcorn and potato chip crumbs.

“Sometimes there will be a lot of trash. People could forget to take their rubbish with them and it's troublesome. We are afraid that the cleaning could delay the next batch of moviegoers from entering the theatre,” said Mr Teo, speaking in Mandarin.

But Mr Teo also pointed out that the situation has improved in the past six months: “Many more people are now remembering to clean after themselves," said the employee of cinema chain Golden Village (GV), which operates the VivoCity cinema.


According to GV, the largest cinema operator in Singapore, the amount of trash left behind by moviegoers has increased over the years.

About 109,200kg of trash was collected from its largest outlet at VivoCity in 2014, equivalent to 2,100kg of trash per week. And the number of man-hours spent collecting that rubbish has risen from 9,700 in 2014 to 11,830 in 2015.

Most of it consists of food packaging from restaurants, food leftovers such as popcorn debris and soft drink cups, said Ms Delphina Chua, manager for GV’s Cinema Operations. “The amount of trash left behind by moviegoers is staggering. It also requires quite a number of man-hours to clean up each cinema,” she added.

To address the litter problem, GV launched a campaign called Just Bin It in 2012 to encourage moviegoers to clean up after themselves. In 2015, the cinema went a step further by screening videos just before the movie to remind customers to clean up after themselves. The campaign has been having the desired effect, with GV seeing a 15 per cent drop in rubbish collected across its 11 outlets so far this year.

Over at Shaw Theatres, the cinema does not track the amount of trash generated by moviegoers. But a spokesperson said more cleaners are assigned to bigger cinemas. The operator also has in-cinema visual reminders to get people to bin their trash.

So far, the initiative seems to have shown results. “We refreshed our in-cinema visual reminders early last year and have observed more of our patrons helping to clear up after each screening,” said the spokesperson.

These efforts by the cinemas have not gone unnoticed by some moviegoers. Paul Tay, 31, has seen signs that more people are cleaning up after themselves.

“In the past, it used to be like almost everybody would just leave their litter behind because they took it for granted that the cleaners would clean up for them. But I think with the recent increase in awareness, the situation is improving,” he said.

But Muhd Sufi, 22, disagreed. “People won’t change. I think it’s just a habit that everyone will just leave their litter behind and not clean up after themselves,” he said.


Former chairman of the Public Hygiene Council Liak Teng Lit commended the cinema operators’ efforts to encourage people to clear up their trash. But Mr Liak, who led the Keep Singapore Clean Movement, also pointed out that a minority will still leave a mess behind.

He cited a survey conducted by the National Environment Agency in 2010 which showed that a third of Singaporeans would litter if they think they can get away with it.

“It's not quite our culture here yet that we should leave the place clean and leave it to the next person in a better shape. So I guess the cinema will probably be very similar. If you observe around, we are not getting worse, but I'm not too sure whether we are improving and improving fast enough,” he said.

He added: “I think a lot of people are not conscious. They just forget about it and leave it behind. So I think we need to get a lot more considerate (and) think about the next user.”

Mr Liak also called on more people to speak up when they see others littering.

“Those who do not litter should be brave enough to gently remind those who litter by saying ‘Excuse me, I hope you don't mind’. I notice that if most people are reminded, they will be embarrassed and they will clear up,” he said.

However, Mr Teo and his team of cleaners would like more people to clean up without having to be reminded: "We still hope such behaviour can be more automatic and people can do us a favour by not leaving their trash behind. It will save us a lot of time.”

- CNA/jq

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