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To clear or not to clear: Who’s responsible for cleaning up after a meal?



Recently, a rather startling post went up on popular confessions page, NUSWhispers. In the post, the author complained about having to clear their plates after a meal when there are cleaners employed to do this exact job.

Photo Credits: NUSWhispers

In this post which went up yesterday, the author talked about witnessing a group of guys leave their empty plates at an NUS food court after they had finished eating. The cleaner then alerted them to the mess they had left behind in what the author described to be a “really rude” manner.

However the question posed by this author was if returning plates was truly mandatory considering that it is technically the cleaner’s job to clear the plates.

While it is true that cleaners are paid to keep our environment clean, I personally believe that cleaning up after your meal should come automatically and should not fall to the cleaners.

In our society, we can often fall into the trap of feeling entitled. We believe that we are above tasks such as cleaning up after ourselves and that therefore, we don’t have to. After all, it’s not mandatory. You don’t get penalised (yet) for not returning your plates.

Photo Credits: NUSWhispers

However, I believe that the problem lies exactly with the fact that we view the returning of plates as a voluntarily task. A favour that we are doing for the cleaners. We stop seeing them as human but rather someone there to be at our beck and call.

So why should we clear our plates after a meal?

  1. Cleaners aren’t slaves

It strikes me as odd that in one of the most educated countries in the world, we still need to be reminded of this fact.

Cleaners are there to make sure we enjoy a clean space. However, it is not their job to pick up after each and every individual. In the same way, it is not our job to create work for them. Rather we should aim to reduce their workload and to be more responsible for our own messes.

They are after all, our messes.

2. Cleaners are usually elderly individuals

Speaking of reducing their workload, it is worth mentioning that many cleaners in Singapore are elderly men and women who are working to support themselves or to keep active.

Many of them are the same age as your grandparents.

When you don’t clean up after yourself, you are forcing these cleaners to make an extra trip to pick up your plates, take them to the tray return station and then to go back with a rag to clean the table if they didn’t have enough hands the first time. Mind you, this is usually after being made to stand all day doing back breaking work.

It doesn’t take much effort to bring your own plate to the tray return station. After all, they exist for a reason.

Think of cleaners as you would your grandparents and be kind and responsible.

3. You are functioning in a shared space

In the end, you should clear your own plates because you are in a shared space. When you clear your plates, you are providing a clean space for the next person to use.

No one likes coming to a table and having to deal with dirty plates strewn everywhere. So do your part to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Ultimately, cleaners are human too and they too are just trying to do their job and not get into trouble. They aren’t your domestic helpers and it’s time we stopped treating them as such.

Perhaps when we finally stop seeing cleaners as beneath us and start treating them like the human being they are, things might change.

What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s right for cleaners to ask that you return your plates despite it being their ‘job’? Or do you believe that we should all clear up after ourselves? Let us know in the comments.

Camillia is always found with a book in her hand and her phone in the other. She loves food and doesn't understand how people can "forget to eat". She will also do literally anything for a good Instagram picture.

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