The Cleanest Estate Competition and the Cleanest Block Competition

by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala

The Cleanest Estate Competition and the Cleanest Block Competition were launched by the government with the aim of elevating the level of cleanliness in public housing estates.

Fifteen years after the launch of the Keep Singapore Clean campaign in 1968, then Minister of State and Member of Parliament for West Coast Wan Soon Bee (Dr) noted – in September 1983 when officiating the close of a campaign to find the cleanest block of flats at West Coast Road – that there had been a drop in the standard of cleanliness in Singapore.1 From 1995 to 2003, the government ran the Cleanest Block Competition and Cleanest Estate Competition island-wide to reduce the rampant littering in housing estates. Through their anti-littering message, these initiatives aimed to make Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates a clean and safe place to live.2


Cleanest Estate Competition

The Cleanest Estate Competition pitted HDB estates against one another for the title of the cleanest estate.3 Besides the physical appearance of the estate, organisers of the competition in 2000 also considered the social manners of residents in housing estates. This included deducting points for irresponsible acts such as throwing killer litter, as well as the presence of bulky refuse and other forms of obstruction in common areas.4 In 2002, the competition included toilets at food centres as part of their assessment. Toilets were ranked according to cleanliness and their facilities, with separate categories for toilets in hotels, industrial buildings, coffeeshops and shopping centres. The five places with the cleanest toilets were then awarded a cash prize of $1000 and a plaque.5

However in 2003, the Cleanest Estate Competition was scrapped as it was increasingly seen as a battle between town councils and their cleaners rather than residents. The competition was replaced by a civic awareness campaign that aimed to appeal to everyone’s sense of responsibility to keep their estates clean and tidy. In June 2003, this translated into the Singapore’s OK – Our Town Sparkles programme, launched on 29 June.6 The aim of the campaign was to create awareness and a sense of ownership among residents, and that community effort would be needed to keep the blocks clean. Under this campaign, blocks that passed the cleanliness test for public areas commonly plagued by litter were awarded the “sparkle” sticker that the residents could proudly display at their lift lobbies. Residents could nominate their block if they thought it was clean and tidy. Only blocks that garnered at least five nominations were eligible.7

Cleanest Block Competition
The search for the cleanest HDB block began as early as 1968 as part of the Keep Singapore Clean campaign but went island-wide for the first time in 1995. Called the “Cleanest Block Competition”, it was spearheaded by the coordinating committee for the People’s Action Party town councils whose members felt that an island-wide award would make a positive impact. Rebates on conservancy charges were offered as an incentive for residents to try to win the award, a move that had already been introduced in some HDB estates.8 By the time the island-wide hunt for the cleanest block was introduced in 1995, 16 town councils were already holding the event annually, and prizes ranged from souvenirs, rebates on conservancy charges, parties, plaques and cash prizes for the cleaners.9

Judging took place on two levels; first, within the block including the void deck, bin chute, staircase and letterbox areas, and second, in the public areas, including carparks, markets, shops and open spaces. Vandalism to common property was also taken into account as a part of the social behaviour of the residents of various housing estates.10

In 2012, in an effort to maintain Singapore’s reputation as one of the world’s cleanest city states, surveillance cameras were installed to catch high-rise litterbugs.11

Between 2012 and 2013, town councils explored different ways of encouraging residents to keep their estates clean without engaging more cleaners. Two town councils explored giving rebates on service and conservancy charges to households deemed to be living in the cleanest blocks. Other ways explored by town councils include implementing recycling and education campaigns.12

Town councils have since strived to inculcate a sense of ownership in its residents by educating them that estate cleanliness is a shared responsibility.13 This is in line with the National Environment Agency’s direction to raise the efficiency and standards of public cleanliness through maintenance cleaning, public education and enforcement.14


Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

1. Cleanliness standard dropped – Dr Wan. (1983, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Wong, K. (2003, June 30). Cleanest HDB estate contest to be scrappedThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Wong, K. (2003, June 30). Cleanest HDB estate contest to be scrappedThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Cleanest precinct: Social manners count too. (2000, May 24). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Kaur, S. (2002, September 10). Wanted: Cleaner, better loos at food centresThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Wong, K. (2003, June 30). Cleanest HDB estate contest to be scrappedThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Chang, A. (2003, December 16). 1,149 HDB blocks ‘sparkle’; They win award for cleanliness after their public areas pass testThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Lee, Y. L. (1995, August 8). Islandwide hunt for cleanest HDB blocksThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Lee, Y. L. (1995, August 8). Islandwide hunt for cleanest HDB blocksThe Straits Times, p. 2; Tan, H. Y. (1996, September 12). Cleanliness competition extended to precinctsThe Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Tan, H. Y. (1996, September 12). Cleanliness competition extended to precinctsThe Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Tan, J. (2012, April 19). Look out – you can get caught on camera: 40 locations will get surveillance cameras to curb high-rise littering. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Tang, L., & Tay, D. (2013, February 15). Town councils offer incentives for cleanliness: S&CC rebates to be given out to residents of cleanest blocks in Bishan-Toa Payoh. Today, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Tweak annual town council report to incorporate residents’ role in estate cleanliness: MPs. (2016, June 15). Channel News Asia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website:
14. National Environment Agency. (2018, May 17). Public cleanliness: Overview. Retrieved 2018, August 15 from National Environment Agency website:

Further resources
Anti-litter efforts. (1995, November 5). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Garbage out, cash in. (2007, November 26). Today, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Launch of Clean and Green Week. (1994, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Lim, S. (1991, July 16). Spick and span, thanks to family of cleanersThe Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Neo, C. C. (2008, May 26). Jurong comes out squeaky clean. Today, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Night brigade goes in search of cleanest block. (1989, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

They help by not littering public areas. (1995, July 27). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Which is the cleanest block of them all? (2000, September 17). The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Why littering is so hard to sweep away. (2008, January 12). The Straits Times, p. 69. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Your Insights: Last week, we asked if tougher measures are needed to stamp out littering here. Fifty-one of you wrote in. Here are some responses. (2008, January 19). The Straits Times, p. 73. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The information in this article is valid as at April 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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