SINGAPORE — More than 7,700 cases of high-rise littering were reported to the National Environment Agency (NEA) between 2016 and 2018, averaging between 2,300 and 2,800 per year.
In most cases, the situation improved following outreach efforts by the NEA, town councils and grassroots organisations, but there are some offenders who persist with such inconsiderate acts, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor in Parliament on Tuesday (3 September).
“To address this, the NEA has since 2012 deployed surveillance cameras with video analytics to catch offenders in the act. These cameras have contributed significantly to improving NEA’s enforcement effort,” added Dr Khor, in response to questions raised by several Members of Parliament (MPs).
These cameras have helped to catch more than 2,200 high-rise litterbugs between August 2012 and December 2018, of whom 52 were repeat offenders.
Last Friday, Australian citizen Andrew Gosling, 47, was charged in court for committing a rash act not amounting to culpable homicide, after a wine bottle he reportedly threw from the seventh floor of a condominium fatally struck a 73-year-old man two floors below.
Dr Khor stressed that stiff penalties are in place to deter high-rise littering.
First-time offenders can be fined up to $2,000 for each offence, while recalcitrant offenders face fines of up to $10,000 or a Corrective Work Order (CWO) in addition to, or in lieu of, a fine upon conviction.
Last year, about 2,600 CWOs were issued for all littering cases. Earlier in May, the NEA revamped the design of the CWO vest in a bid to increase the deterrent effect. The revamped fluorescent pink and yellow vest, previously in luminous yellow, is more visible and distinguishable from other safety vests worn by personnel carrying out work in public areas.
The public can report high-rise littering offences via the NEA’s hotline or by submitting evidence - such as photos and video footage - through the myENV mobile app.
Dr Khor noted that the agency received about 26,000 and 2,700 reports of littering and indiscriminate disposal of bulky items in public places, respectively, last year.
It took about 39,000 enforcement actions against littering in public places, and another 30 for the unlawful disposal of bulky items in public places.
Enforcement action is taken when there is evidence and investigations typically run between 10 weeks and 6 months, depending on its complexity and the response time of the involved parties, Dr Khor said.
For instance, the agency requires at least one week to verify the information and contact the feedback provider to get a witness statement, and another two-week notice to interview the suspect and relevant flat owners.
However, Dr Khor stressed, “While we have laws to deter littering and other environmental offences, it is more important that we foster collective responsibility for our environment and cultivate positive social norms.”
The NEA works closely with the Public Hygiene Council and partners of the Keep Singapore Clean campaign, she noted. “Significant resources are devoted to engaging a wide range of stakeholders, including residents, schools, communities, private and public organisations, as well as foreign workers.”
Many of these stakeholders conduct ground-up activities such as litter-picking activities, beach and park clean-ups, and cleaner appreciation days, she said, while also calling on residents to bin their litter properly and contact their town councils for assistance in disposing of bulky waste items.
Lee Bee Wah on high-rise litter involving sanitary pads
In a supplementary question, Mountbatten SMC MP Lim Biow Chuan asked if the NEA would be open to working with the Housing Development Board to repossess the flats of recalcitrant high rise litterers, referencing the recent case involving Gosling.
“I think that’s a cause for concern for many innocent people who are walking around on the ground floor wondering whether a missile from above would hit them,” said Lim.
In response, Dr Khor noted that there are existing provisions under the HDB legislation but described them as “extreme measures” that require the consideration of all factors involved.
“I wouldn't say that definitely this is an avenue that we will take but it is something that is an option available depending on the factors of the case. If it is killer litter, it's under the Penal Code - the police will investigate and (these offences entail) even harsher penalties,” she added.
Separately, Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah brought up the issue of the persistent littering in her constituency despite the installation of surveillance cameras and enquired whether the NEA would review and enhance their enforcement process, such as employing the use of DNA technology.
One such perennial issue is of high-rise litterbugs who throw sanitary pads out of their flats, she added. “Until today, it is still not solved. And why? Because the NEA deploys the (closed-circuit television) CCTV cameras for only a few days,” said Lee.
“Otherwise, it looks like this problem will only disappear when the litterbug (experiences) menopause... The next question is that if the CCTV cameras are deployed many times, because it's a five-day cycle - who has menstruation in five-day cycles?” she added, to laughter from the House.
Dr Khor noted that the deployment of surveillance cameras had increased the number successful enforcement actions about 120 times, from 10 in 2012 to 1,200 last year.
But she acknowledged that they “have limitations” - for instance, they must be installed at suitable vantage points where the privacy of the residents is safeguarded, and are limited by the number of floors they can track.
On Lee’s suggestion to look into DNA technology, Dr Khor replied that the issue has been discussed in Parliament before.
“First of all, when the litter comes down onto the ground, it's likely that it’ll not just (contain) the DNA of the culprit. So it'd be very difficult... I'm not referring specifically to sanitary pads,” she explained.
Fellow Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng also asked if these surveillance cameras would be improved to be less intrusive so that offenders are not made aware of them.
Dr Khor said that the NEA will continue to look out for better technologies, but reiterated that the longer-term solution is to cultivate positive social norms.