Keep Singapore Clean campaign
The Keep Singapore Clean campaign was one of Singapore’s first national campaigns as an independent nation. Launched on 1 October 1968 by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the month-long campaign aimed to make Singapore the cleanest and greenest city in the region by addressing the problem of inconsiderate littering. The campaign reached out to every stratum of society and sought to instil in Singaporeans the importance of keeping public places clean. It was part of a larger public cleansing plan that included changes in public health laws, relocation and licensing of itinerant hawkers, development of proper sewage systems, and disease control. The government believed that improved environmental conditions would not only enhance the quality of life for Singaporeans and cultivate national pride, but also attract foreign investors and tourists to Singapore.
Prior to 1968, Singapore had already conducted a number of similar campaigns. One of the earliest was the Keep Your City Clean campaign, an anti-littering initiative organised by the City Council in 1958. The following year, the government launched the Gerakkan Pembersehan Bandar Raya Singapura, meaning “movement to clean the city of Singapore”. During his opening speech on 23 November 1959, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said that he wanted to use this campaign as a starting point for Singapore to become one of the cleanest and healthiest cities in Asia.
In the subsequent years leading up to the launch of the Keep Singapore Clean campaign, the government continued to conduct campaigns regularly to instil a sense of responsibility in individuals to keep Singapore clean and to encourage them to bin their rubbish.
The first Keep Singapore Clean campaign
In August 1968, the government announced that a national campaign committee had been formed to run the Keep Singapore Clean campaign to be held in October. Headed by the health minister Chua Sian Chin, the committee comprised representatives from various government agencies such as the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Culture, Public Works Department and Jurong Town Corporation, as well as non-government organisations like employers' and employees’ associations.
The launch of the campaign was held at the Singapore Conference Hall with much fanfare. Over 1,500 community leaders attended the event. Explaining the rationale of the campaign in his opening speech on 1 October, Lee stated that cleaner communities would lead to a more pleasant life and keep morale high and sickness rate low, thus creating the necessary social conditions for higher economic growth through industry and tourism. Lee noted that if Singaporeans wanted to keep their communities clean, they had to raise their personal and public standards of hygiene. He urged Singaporeans to be more conscious and thoughtful about their actions, but added that the government would not hesitate to impose penalties on litterbugs if needed.
During the period of the campaign, posters and banners in Singapore’s four official languages (English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil) were displayed in public places such as shops, restaurants, offices, factories, community centres, bus shelters and public notice boards. Mini posters, stick-up strips, leaflets, pamphlets and car-bumper stickers were also distributed, while postal items and cinema tickets bore stamps with the campaign slogan.
In addition to the distribution of collaterals, various public education activities were organised. These included talks and lectures by health officials, inspections and spot checks by government officials, and house visits, rallies, exhibitions and estate cleaning exercises by grassroots organisations. Competitions for the cleanest offices, shops, restaurants, markets, factories, government buildings, schools and public vehicles were also conducted. The results of these competitions were announced publicly, highlighting both the cleanest and the dirtiest. Film clips and photographs of dirty premises or people caught in the act of littering were also shown in the mass media.
Besides the use of social pressure, the Keep Singapore Clean campaign marked the first time that fines were used as a way to control social behaviour. The police, Special Constabulary and Public Health Inspectorate sent officers on patrol to advise members of the public against littering and to catch people littering in public. Those who were caught littering were fined up to S$500. Not only would the offenders be branded as litterbugs, but they would also have to bear public scrutiny and suffer the embarrassment of being made to queue up for hours at City Hall to pay their fines.
To ensure that good habits were cultivated from a young age, children were a special target group of the campaign and teachers were roped in to remind students not to litter. The teachers also held poster design and essay competitions and organised talks by health officers and inspectors to drive across the anti-litter message.
Clean campaigns through the years
Following the success of the inaugural Keep Singapore Clean campaign, the programme continued yearly. The government also introduced various environment-related campaigns to supplement the main campaign. For instance, in the 1970s, there were campaigns such as “Tree Planting”, “Clean Water”, “Use Your Hands” and “Keep Your Factory Clean”. In the 1980s, there were others like “Keep the Toilets Clean”, “Please Keep My Park Clean” and “Keep Our Buses and Interchanges Clean”.
In 1990, the Keep Singapore Clean campaign was merged with the Garden City campaign to form the Clean and Green Week. The new annual programme adopted a more holistic approach in generating greater community awareness and participation in the caring of the environment.
Selected clean campaigns of the past
1958: Keep Your City Clean.
1959: Gerakkan Pembersehan Bandar Raya Singapura.
1960: Operation Clean-up.
1961: Anti-cholera campaign.
1963: Keep Our State Clean.
1964: Help Keep Our City Clean.
1966: Keep Your Beach Clean.
1967: Big Sweep.
1968: Keep Singapore Clean.
1969: Keep Singapore Clean and Mosquito Free.
1970: Keep Singapore Clean and Pollution Free.
1971: Tree Planting campaign.
1973: Keep Our Water Clean.
1978: Use Your Hands.
1979: Keep Your Factory Clean.
1983: Keep the Toilet Clean.
1984: Please Keep My Park Clean.
1988: Singapore is Our Home – Let's Keep It Clean and Beautiful.
1988: Keep Our Buses and Interchanges Clean.
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia and Lim Tin Seng
Anti-pollution drive tomorrow. (1970, October 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
‘Birds' to keep park clean. (1984, April 16). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
It means more than annual clean-up. (1978, June 12). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Keep beaches clean to impress tourists: Sim. (1966, March 21). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
'Keep clean' call to hawkers. (1961, September 18). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Keep the toilets clean campaign launched. (1983, July 2). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Manufacturers call for 'keep clean' drive at each factory. (1979, March 19). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Minister leads 'big sweep' in housing estate. (1960, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Minister opens big drive to clean up city. (1964, January 2). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Minister opens keep water clean campaign. (1973, June 28). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Ministry of Environment. (1973). Towards a clean and healthy environment. Singapore: Ministry of the Environment.
(Call no.: RSING 614.7 SIN)
Ministry of Environment. (1997). Singapore – My clean & green home. Singapore: Ministry of the Environment.
(Call no.: RSING 354.3095957 MIN)
Ministry of Health. (1968, August 23). "Keep Singapore Clean" Campaign, 1st to 31st October, 1968 [Press release]. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from a2o website: http://a2o.nas.sg
MPs lead 1,000 in 'keep clean' campaign. (1967, July 30). The Sunday Times, p. 14. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Nathan, D. (1995, July 9). New approach to keep S'pore litter-free. The Sunday Times, p. 3. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Next campaign: Keep Singapore free of mosquitoes. (1969, June 15). The Sunday Times, p. 9. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Lee, K. Y. (1968, October 1). Speech by the Prime Minister inaugurating the "Keep Singapore Clean" campaign on Tuesday, 1st October, 1968. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from a2o website: http://a2o.nas.sg
Long, S. (2003, May 25). Welcome to campaign country. The Sunday Times, p. 27. Retrieved February 28, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Premier leads mass drive to clean city. (1959, November 24). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Prime Minister to open campaign. (1971, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
SBS begins keep-clean drive today. (1988, March 14). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Singapore launches 3-month clean-up drive. (1963, December 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
Sum, J. (1990). 国家纪事 [Diary of a nation] (Part 3) [Television broadcast]. Singapore: Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
(Call no.: RSING Chinese 959.57 DIA)
Teo, G. (2003, May 11). Dirty pockets still exist. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved February 28, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
The public must co-operate. (1968, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
2,000 tour city with anti-litter leaflets. (1958, October 4). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 21 December 2012 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.