Laws to Tackle High-Rise Littering in Singapore

Last updated on July 3, 2023

boxes being thrown from building

High-rise littering has been described by the National Environment Agency (NEA) to be a serious offence because it endangers members of the public, pollutes the environment, and poses a risk to public hygiene. In light of this, amendments have been made to the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA) to tackle the problem of high-rise littering in Singapore.

This article will explain the amendments in detail and address the penalties for high-rise littering. It will cover:

What are the New Laws to Tackle High-Rise Littering in Singapore? 

First, it would be helpful to take a look at what exactly constitutes high-rise littering. High-rise littering refers to the act of throwing rubbish from high-rise buildings such as residential flats. Examples of waste materials that have been thrown from high-rise buildings in Singapore include soiled tissues and sanitary pads, flower pots and even glass beer bottles.

As compared to regular littering, high-rise littering poses a greater threat to public safety, especially when dangerous objects such as glass bottles are thrown from a height. Such litter is known as “killer litter”, a term which refers to items thrown from high-rise buildings which might cause death. More information on “killer litter” offences will be discussed below. 

The new law stipulates that where high-rise littering acts can be traced to a certain residential flat, the registered owner or tenant of that flat is presumed to have committed the offence of high-rise littering, unless he or she can rebut the presumption.

This is a significant amendment because it places much greater responsibility on flat owners and tenants to refrain from high-rise littering, hence imposing a significant deterrent effect on high-rise litterbugs. 

How Would This Presumption Clause For High-Rise Littering Apply? 

Before diving into how exactly this presumption would apply to suspected high-rise litterbugs, it is important to understand how presumptions of guilt work. Generally, the party who makes a certain allegation is the one who has the responsibility, or burden, of proving it. Hence, they would need to present evidence before the court to establish their case. 

A presumption allows certain facts to be presumed without being proved. Once a certain presumption is placed on someone, that person bears the burden of disproving or rebutting the presumption. Presumptions are commonly used in drug offences — for example, if someone possesses more than 100g of opium, a statutory presumption that he/she intended to use the opium for trafficking is automatically placed on him/her. It is then up to him or her to rebut the presumption by presenting evidence to the contrary.

So, how does all this apply to high-rise littering? Under the new amendments, if there is clear evidence proving that the high-rise litter comes from a specific residential flat, the owners or tenants of that flat will be presumed to have committed the offence.

According to Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor, the evidence giving rise to the presumption needs to “clearly capture” the act of littering, as well as the flat from which the offence was committed. An example of evidence that clearly captures the act would include CCTV footage clearly showing a person throwing a glass bottle from the corridor just outside their flat. On the other hand, evidence which may not be considered to have clearly captured the act might include a photograph of litter on the ground without any indication of who threw it, or the flat from which the litter was thrown.

Such evidence is mainly obtained from NEA’s enforcement cameras, but do note that evidence turned in by members of the public is also accepted. Evidence submitted by the public should be of good quality (i.e. clear visual quality of pictures and videos). Additionally, the evidence should be shared in good faith, without merely intending to falsely accuse someone.

Does the Presumption Clause For High-Rise Littering Apply to Both Public and Private Housing Estates?

Apart from public housing estates, the presumption also applies to private apartment estates if the litter is thrown from a private apartment that is used for residential purposes, and if the litter ends up in a public place, i.e., outside the private residential compound.

In addition, Management Corporation Strata Titles (MCSTs) can enact their own by-laws to crack down on high-rise litterbugs within condominiums and private apartment estates.

How Might the Presumption Clause For High-Rise Littering be Rebutted? 

Once the presumption is applied to a suspected offender, NEA will send a letter notifying them of the allegation. The registered owner or tenant in question will then have 14 days to rebut the presumption by proving to NEA that they did not commit the offence in question.

There are a few ways that a registered owner/tenant can rebut the presumption:

  • By proving that he/she was not present in the flat at the time of the offence;
    • For example, by presenting proof of movie tickets showing that he/she was out watching a movie at the time of the offence. 
  • By proving that he/she could not possibly have been the offender, or;
    • For example, if the suspected offender is someone who suffers from a physical disability, he/she could provide evidence that he/she does not have the physical strength to lift heavy objects and throw them from a height. 
  • By providing the identity of another person reasonably believed to be the offender.
    • For example, by providing the identity details of a neighbour who is known to have committed the offence of high-rise littering on several occasions. 

In rebutting the presumption, it is important to note the standard of proof required. The standard of proof refers to the strength of evidence required to prove a claim. With regard to high-rise littering, owners and tenants do not need to prove that they did not commit the high-rise littering offence beyond a reasonable doubt. Proving something beyond a reasonable doubt means that the evidence produced needs to show that there is no other possible reasonable explanation for what happened other than the accused’s guilt, which is a high threshold to meet. 

For a more detailed explanation of burdens and standards of proof in law, do refer to our article on the burden of proof in criminal and civil cases in Singapore.

Instead, it would suffice for the accused owner/tenant to show that there is a possibility that they did not commit the offence of high-rise littering. For example, they can simply use receipts from transport transactions to show proof that they were not at home during the time of the offence and therefore could not have committed the offence. However, it would not be sufficient for an owner/tenant to merely point at another person without providing any reasonable basis for why that person could have committed the offence.

If the suspected owner/tenant is unable to respond to NEA within the stipulated 14 days because they had missed the letter, they may contact NEA to explain why he/she did not respond to the letter. For example, he/she could produce evidence of boarding passes or airline tickets to show that he/she was overseas when the letter was sent and was therefore unable to respond.

How Might the NEA Handle High-Rise Littering Cases Involving Vulnerable Offenders?

Children

NEA will exercise more care in handling cases where the offenders involved are young children or the elderly. Enforcement action (i.e. prosecution) will not be taken against children below the age of 12 because they may not be mature enough to understand their actions. Instead, NEA will send an advisory letter to the parents so that they can educate their child accordingly. 

Elderly

As for elderly offenders, NEA has an existing enforcement framework in place for them. Elderly offenders or their family members may write in to NEA and provide relevant supporting documents of the offender’s age and medical conditions, if any, which will be reviewed by NEA. The agency will consider the circumstances of each case before coming to a decision on the appropriate action to take against the elderly offender, which would include issuing a warning.

Mentally incapacitated individuals

Offenders with mental incapacities will be referred to social welfare agencies so that they can receive more holistic support. If the offences continue to persist, NEA may reach out to the households of mentally incapacitated offenders to undertake preventative measures such as installing wire mesh on the windows.

However, if an offender with mental incapacity is nonetheless aware of the nature and consequences of their actions and continues to commit the offence of high-rise littering without making any effort to prevent re-offending, NEA may proceed to take enforcement action against the offender.

What are the Penalties For High-Rise Littering?

According to Section 21(1)(c) of the EPHA, an individual convicted of a littering offence for the first time is liable to pay a fine of up to $2,000. A person convicted of the offence for the second time is liable to pay a fine of up to $4,000, and up to $10,000 for the third and subsequent convictions.

A Corrective Work Order (CWO) may also be issued by the court, requiring the offender to clean public areas for up to 12 hours. Do note that a CWO is not exclusive to high-rise littering offences and may be imposed for general littering offences as well. A CWO may be imposed on recalcitrant offenders to allow them to understand the hardship faced by cleaners who have to pick up their litter.

For more information on the CWO, do refer to our article on penalties for littering offences in Singapore.

What if high-rise littering results in injury or death?

As mentioned above, litter thrown from high-rise buildings resulting in injury or death is known as “killer litter”.

The offence of “killer litter” is regulated by the Penal Code, not the EPHA. Offenders who commit this offence may be liable for one of the following offences depending on the nature of the incident:

Killer Litter Offence under the Penal Code Penalties Illustration 
Section 336 — Committing an act which endangers the life or personal safety of others If the act was committed rashly:

  • Fine up to $2,500 and/or imprisonment for a term of up to 6 months

If the act was committed negligently:

  • Fine up to $1,500 and/or imprisonment for a term of up to 3 months
A man who threw a glass bottle out of his flat in Tampines, which hit and damaged the roof of a car.
Section 337 — Causing hurt to someone by an act that endangers the life or personal safety of others If the act was committed rashly:

  • Fine up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for a term of up to 1 year

If the act was committed negligently:

  • Fine up to $2,500 and/or imprisonment for a term of up to 6 months
If the glass bottle thrown by the man out of his Tampines flat had hit a person and caused hurt instead in the form of bodily pain or bruises.
Section 338 — Causing grievous hurt to someone by an act that endangers the life or personal safety of others If the act was committed rashly:

  • Fine up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for a term of up to 4 years

If the act was committed negligently:

  • Fine up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for a term of up to 2 years
A man threw a bottle from the seventh storey of a condominium at a group of people on the fifth storey. The bottle ricocheted off its target and hit the shoulder of a nearby lady, whose right arm suffered injury and had to be in a sling for approximately 2 months.
Section 304A — Causing death by rash or negligent act  If the act was committed rashly:

  • Fine and/or imprisonment for a term of up to 5 years

If the act was committed negligently:

  • Fine and/or imprisonment for a term of up to 2 years
In the same case of the man who threw a bottle from the seventh storey of a condominium at a group of people on the fifth storey, the bottle ended up hitting the head of a man, who suffered a fractured skull and subsequently passed away from the injury.

The difference between rashness and negligence can be illustrated as follows:

  • Rashness: Feeling frustrated about life events, a man angrily throws a glass bottle from his flat, striking a passerby in the process
  • Negligence: A man leaves a glass bottle right beside the window sill and the glass bottle topples out of the flat after being blown by a gust of wind, striking a passerby below. 

How are minors who committed a killer litter offence penalised?

A first-time offender older than 16 years of age but below 21 may be eligible for probation. For example, in a case involving a 16-year-old offender who committed 5 killer litter offences over a year by throwing bulky items such as bricks, a water dispenser and a bicycle wheel from high floors, the teenage offender was ordered to undergo 3 years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Alternatively, minors may be sentenced to undergo reformative training at a reformative training centre. This may happen when the dominant sentencing consideration is rehabilitation but there is a lack of familial support, or if the offender is a repeat offender.

To conclude, where there is evidence that high-rise littering acts come from a certain residential flat, the registered owner or tenant of that flat is presumed to have committed the offence of high-rise littering unless he or she can rebut the presumption. The owner/tenant can rebut the presumption can be rebutted by showing that he/she was not present in the flat at the time of the offence, he/she could not possibly have been the offender, or by providing the identity of another person reasonably believed to be the offender.

If you are charged with the offence of high-rise littering, you might like to consult a criminal defence lawyer on how the new laws might apply to you. A lawyer would be able to consider the available evidence, assess your situation and advise you on the next steps to take.

Do refer to our list of highly rated criminal lawyers in Singapore if you need some help in starting your search. You can also use our Find a Lawyer service to assist you in finding a suitable criminal defence lawyer.

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