On a sunny day S. and E. and I headed out for a walk in one of Singapore's amazing nature parks. Since I am not organized enough to make sure that we'd get there and back in between E.'s frequent nap and food breaks, I opted for the next best thing, which was to simply bring everything she might need with us. And lo and behold, within five minutes of starting the actual walk, it was lunch time. So we sat down on the thoughtfully provided benches overlooking the gorgeous view of tropical island and oil tankers and munched on the not-so-lovely-but-it's-the-best-I-could-find bread.
Afterwards we were left with a bag.
And even though there were comfortable benches underneath a well constructed pavilion on the side of a tarmacked road weaving its way up through the park, so you'd think the park-people had really thought of everything, there were no bins. And littering in Singapore is illegal. I looked behind the bench (the most likely spot in my European experience, both making sure throwing stuff away is as easy as possible and making sure nobody occupies said bench for any considerable length of time). I looked behind the pillars carrying the pavillion rooftop (the option for visually more aware construction people). I even walked across the road and looked up and down. No bin in sight.
I walked back to S. and stretched out my hand with the balled up bag in it. "No pockets", I pointed at my skirt. (He hates it when I do this. He once pointed out that women carry big wallets because they never actually have to put them in their pockets, which is certainly true in my case. I also like big wallets. And I carry several keys on my chain that are solely there for sentimental reasons. And a couple whose corresponding door I seem to have lost. Still, you just never know. Look at Alice.) "For a country where littering is strictly forbidden, they do seem to have few bins", he observed peevishly while putting the offending object in his trouserpocket. (E. had thrown milk all over the bag, so we couldn't put with her stuff but S.' trouser was going to get all sweaty and dirty anyway, so I'd just wash that.)
But it's true. There are surprisingly few bins dotted around Singapore. So S. and I have been observing this phenomenon. And we discovered something: there are surprisingly few bins, because there is not a whole amount of litter to be thrown away.
See, most litter involves food, in my experience. Fries, empty cans, wrappers, take away coffee cups, ice cream cones, paper napkins, brown bags, half eaten sandwiches, that kind of thing. You get your Starbucks, you drink while running for the bus, you hop on and discard the cup. But Singaporeans value their nourishment far too highly to multitask around it. Eating means observing the plate, tasting the food, meditating on the flavour, analysing it with your makan mates. Eating is a serious business, to be handled sitting down in a leisurely fashion. (S. also has good-sized lunch breaks.) All this sitting down and relaxing and enjoying your food means there are no wrappers, fries or empty coffee cups to be thrown away in random places. Therefore it eliminates the need for bins.
But we are still adjusting, so we compromise by carrying used plastic shopping bags at all times.