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More volunteers to squash litterbugs

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.

More volunteers to squash litterbugs

The authorities have been stressing the importance of having more ground-up initiatives to keep Singapore clean. TODAY file photo

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.

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