Litterbugs turn public parks into rubbish dumps

Amresh Gunasingham Straits Times 25 Jan 10;

SINGAPORE'S clean reputation is coming under threat as the Garden City's pristine green spaces, especially its parks and beaches, are turned into giant litter bins.

An average of 700 tickets were issued every month last year to park visitors for dumping their trash, The Straits Times discovered.

For the whole of last year, more than 8,300 tickets were issued by enforcement officers from the National Parks Board, which manages 320 public parks occupying an area of 2,500ha.

'Littering remains a cause for concern in our parks despite many years of public education,' said Mr Kong Yit San, NParks' director of parks, adding that more waste is dumped over the weekends and public holidays.

Parks, beaches and mangrove swamps and popular hiking trails such as Chek Jawa in Pulau Ubin appear to be hot spots for mounds of trash.

Favourite dumping grounds are the 185ha East Coast Park (ECP) and the 73ha Pasir Ris Park. From the ECP, more than 200 tonnes of litter are picked up by cleaners every month, an NParks spokesman said. The rubbish turns the weekend getaway into an eyesore.

The National Environment Agency (NEA), which is in charge of cleaning beaches, spends about $1.4 million every year, employing cleaners to pick up the mess.

Most of the rubbish is made up of cigarette butts, plastic bags, tissue paper, bottles and drink cans.

Not only are they unsightly but they could also choke flora and threaten marine life if they got into the run-off.

Last September, in a two-day islandwide sweep, volunteers from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore collected 1,500 bags - about 13,000kg - of trash from mangrove swamps and beaches that extended to nearby conservation sites such as Pulau Semakau and St John's Island.

NParks said the number of litterbugs caught last year increased from previous years, partly because more officers have had their eyes peeled for the antisocial behaviour since June 2008.

Last year's littering figures were 10 per cent more than the previous year's. Each ticket issued carries a fine of $300.

Housewife Sharon Chong, 36, who takes her three children to the ECP every weekend, said: 'It can be quite an eyesore to see plastic bags, bottles and straws strewn all over, particularly when sometimes they are thrown right next to a dustbin. Some objects that are sharp can also be dangerous for kids walking around barefoot.'

Retiree Ken Ho, 69, said leftover food attracted stray dogs and cats to the area.

He said the problem could be worse if not for the army of cleaners that throng the area.

'Every day, I see cleaners walking around picking up rubbish left by people. Imagine if the park was not cleaned for a week, how much rubbish are we going to find?'

Mr Kong said the onus of keeping public parks clean was not just the duty of cleaners. 'Everyone has a social responsibility to ensure our parks are beautiful and

litter-free, so that they remain places where all users can enjoy and relax.'

The decades-old littering issue has come to the fore in the last few years, partly owing to an expanding foreign workforce that brings with it different social habits.

NEA said the number of litterbugs caught rose to 27,600 last year, up from 20,500 in 2008. Almost one in three caught last year were foreigners.

Anti-littering campaigns held over the years, as well as fines and corrective work orders as deterrents, appear to have had little lasting effect, environmentalists argued.

Mr Wilson Ang, the founder of Environmental Challenge Organisation Singapore, felt such measures did not address the nub of the issue.

He said there should be more emphasis on campaigns that address how littering affects the individual, in terms of the health hazards it posed, as well as its unpleasant effects on a community's image. 'This will get things close to people's hearts and motivate them to play their part.'