In collaboration with the elevated preventive measures on Covid 19, the National Environment Agency of Singapore (NEA) initiated a SG Clean campaign that sets a quality standard for local industries, encouraging businesses to maintain a high standard of cleanliness and hygiene at their business outlets, especially crowded places.
To minimise the spread of COVID-19, a stricter measure known as a “circuit breaker” was announced by the government where all non-essential services are to be suspended for one month commencing 7 April 2020. To help the public adjust to this new norm, a group of SG Clean ambassadors who are volunteers trained by National Environment Agency was at hawker centres and coffee shops to remind people to stay home and abide by the safe distancing regulations when they are outside the house to buy food or essential items. People are also advised to bring their own containers for takeaways.
On 5 April 2020, 21 volunteers from Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) joined the ranks of SG Clean ambassadors. Accompanied by NEA staff, the volunteers went to Jurong West Hawker Centre, North Bridge Road Food Centre and Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre to promote the new social norms.
Our Health and the Environment are interlink
"If everyone takeaway food using disposable plastic containers, it will be very damaging to our earth, and this is very worrying," said stall owner Ng Lee Tuck, who encourages everyone to bring their own containers for takeaways. This practice is good for the environment and buyers need not pay extra cost for the containers. To play his part on environmental protection, Ng has started using cardboard boxes for takeaways as well as reducing disposable cutleries for his customers.
For demonstration purpose, Tzu Chi volunteers brought along reusable containers, some even brought their “Tingkat” (tiffin carrier) from home to remind everyone to bring their own containers for takeaways. Tingkat means "layer" in Malay and it is an olden day smart invention that is still commonly used today for takeaways and food catering.
"Disposable plastic containers are thrown away after one use. It is very wasteful and bad for the environment. It is also unhealthy to takeaway hot soup using plastic containers. “Tingkat” is both safe for our health and good for the environment," shared Chen Jian Sheng, a member of the public who brought his 4 layer “Tingkat” to takeaway food for his family.
For some, they were curious where can they get the “tingkat”? Chen shared with them that he got it online a year ago. He encouraged everyone to use “tingkat” for takeaways. It is good for health and at the same time to protect the environment. He has no problem to take away food from hawker stalls during this period, compared to the challenge of having to tend to his preschool children and work from home at the same time.
Another member of the public, Chen Xue Feng who dined at the hawker centre shared that she would be cooking more often at home once the circuit breaker starts. She also said that she would bring her own containers if she has to takeaway food. Chen who carries her own water bottle said, “There is a need to reduce plastic wastes as plastic pollution has imposed great stress on the earth. Environmental protection starts with us. I also encourage my children and grandchildren to act together, it is our shared responsibility to save the earth.”
Being mindful of social distancing
Whilst carrying out their duties, Tzu Chi volunteers kept a safe distance of more than one meter from the diners. With smiles behind their mask, volunteers are polite and friendly as usual. They chatted with the residents to confirm that they understood the preventive measures during the circuit breaker. Volunteers also distributed some face masks to people who need them and reminded them to collect their reusable masks from the nearest community centre. Besides encouraging the residents to bring their own containers for takeaways, the volunteers also distributed leaflets for everyone to share the information with their family and friends.
"It feels promising to see that some people took immediate action to buy food containers after listening to what we said, the seeds of goodness can ripples," said Tzu Chi volunteer, Khor Chin Seng. As elderly are the most vulnerable during this pandemic, Tzu Chi only mobilised volunteers in the age group of 17 to 49. Khor who volunteered hopes to forge a positive affinity with the residents by sharing with more people about environmental protection at a critical time like this.
"We lend them our ears to express their bottle up emotions, what we do is to relieve them from fear and to calm them down," said Khor. He praised those who would keep in touch with their friend through telephones and other means, and those who choose to cook more often at home during the circuit breaker. He also relayed the feedbacks of the public immediately to the NEA officers on site.
Amid the current pandemic, avoiding outings and maintaining a safe social distance is loving ourselves and protecting others. Whereas bringing our own food container for takeaways is a healthier choice for ourselves and also an act of love for mother earth.