More volunteers to squash litterbugs

TODAY | July 30, 2013

More volunteers to squash litterbugs Woo Sian Boon

SINGAPORE — The number of trained volunteers empowered to book litterbugs will soon be almost doubled, with about 50 more volunteers having indicated their interest in being part of the scheme, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) as it issued authority cards to the first batch of 60 trained volunteers from various non-government organisations (NGOs) this month. This comes as 479 litterbugs were nabbed this month by NEA enforcement officers, a 58 per cent increase compared to the 304 apprehended in May — a result of stepped-up enforcement hours from 24,000 man-hours to 35,000 hours per month since last month, according to the NEA. The authorities have been stressing the importance of having more ground-up initiatives to keep Singapore clean, with Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan first mooting the idea of empowering members of the public to help nab litterbugs last year. As of mid-last month, the NEA had trained the 60 volunteers from five NGOs, namely; the Public Hygiene Council, Waterways Watch Society, Singapore Kindness Movement, Singapore Environmental Council and the Cat Welfare Society. Said an NEA spokesperson: “These volunteers are in the process of being issued their authority cards via their NGOs, beginning from July 18.” Under this community volunteer scheme, volunteers are trained in appropriate ways of approaching offenders to pick up their litter. If they encounter any uncooperative offenders, the volunteers have the authority to record down their particulars and hand the details over to the NEA, which will then investigate the cases before prosecuting the offenders. Training is conducted over two half-day sessions in which the participants are familiarised with the legislation under which they are empowered, while going through role-playing sessions with NEA officers on typical scenarios they may be faced with on the ground. For exposure, the volunteers also accompany NEA officers on their enforcement rounds. Added the spokesperson: “As this is a new scheme, we will review if there is a need for a refresher training for these volunteers, depending on their needs and feedback.” The Singapore Kindness Movement is one of the NGOs which have distributed the authority cards to their 10 volunteers. Its Secretary-General William Wan said: “The fact that we are authorised under the law gives (our volunteers) some sense of security, to be able to handle anyone who asks, why are you doing this?” Ultimately, volunteers must also carry the right mindset when they approach members of the public, said freelance interior designer Andy Wong, who has been volunteering with the Cat Welfare Society since 2009 and was nominated to undergo the NEA training. “It is inevitable that some people might react negatively, but we have to reassure them that what we are doing is purely educational,” he said. Added Dr Wan: “The end game is not about us becoming pseudo police officers. The point is, we are trying to get more people to take more ownership of the environment, so that when they see ordinary people asking others not to litter, when we start these conversations, eventually, we can create a culture that is opposite of being indifferent.” The volunteers also said they have not needed to book any litterbugs so far, adding that most people will usually oblige and pick up their litter when asked to do so politely. Source: TODAYOnline

Straits Times | July 11, 2013

Volunteers to get power to book litterbugs Rachel Tan and David Ee

SINGAPORE – On Orchard Road, a group of several volunteers from the Cat Welfare Society stand and observe as an officer from the National Environment Agency (NEA) confronts a litterbug. They watch as he asks the offender, politely but firmly, to pick up and bin the litter properly. “We were taught to be non-confrontational and polite. The whole concept is just to persuade them not to litter,” said volunteer Phyllis Tan, 36. This is part of a new NEA training programme to empower volunteers in several non-governmental organisations to curtail littering offences. Some 60 trained volunteers will be issued accreditation cards in the next few weeks, which give them the authority to ask litterbugs to bin their trash. And if they refuse, to take down their particulars. Volunteers are not aware of the exact date they will receive the cards. For a start, the volunteers will come from groups such as the Public Hygiene Council, Waterways Watch Society, Singapore Kindness Movement, Singapore Environment Council and the Cat Welfare Society. The idea to include members of the public in the effort to prevent littering was first floated by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan to NEA last year. He said then: “We believe that, in fact, we need to reclaim community ownership and community action (over the environment).” Then-NEA chief executive Andrew Tan said at the time: “We need to get to the very heart of behaviour change by promoting the right social values, including ‘zero tolerance’ towards litter.” The number of littering offences went down from 41,392 in 2009 to 11,131 in 2011. But chairman of the Public Hygiene Council, Mr Liak Teng Lit, has said that littering remains a serious issue, and that some Singaporeans litter “with impunity”. Trained volunteers will not go on patrols, but are encouraged to dissuade people when they witness them littering. Over two half-day sessions last month, volunteers also engaged in role-play. They also learnt to “walk away” if an encounter with a litterbug turned aggressive, said Ms Tan, who acknowledged the risk of conflict. “I mean, if I’m a litterbug and somebody approached me, I would also ask: ‘Who are you?’ ” She added: “And if we approach litterbugs and they refuse to pick up their litter, what are the chances that they will give us their particulars?” Should difficult situations arise, volunteers are advised to seek help from NEA officials or note down the particulars of the offender. Some commentators expressed scepticism. Sociologist Daniel Goh of the National University of Singapore said: “Ethically, I don’t think it is right for a government agency to pit citizens against citizens and expose people to potential violence.” Associate Professor Goh suggested nudge tactics such as creative campaigns and surveillance cameras to change littering behaviour. But some believe that the task of keeping Singapore clean should not be left only to the authorities. Getting volunteers to come on board is a good ground-up approach. Said Dr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement: “It is important to have a critical mass to create social pressure.” NEA VOLUNTEERS ARE TRAINED TO: Politely approach people who litter to ask them to bin their trash properly. Assess the risk of engagement. For instance, not to approach drunk litterbugs at night. Seek help from NEA officials or note down the particulars of the offender, should difficult situations arise. Training includes watching NEA officers in action, as well as role-playing. Source: AsiaOne

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