Abandoned shopping carts cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.

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Santa Fe, New Mexico, paid a local contractor $47,000 to assemble nearly 3,000 shopping carts around the city in 2021 and 2022.

Fayetteville, North Carolina, spent $78,468 collecting carts from May 2020 to October 2022.

Shopping carts are driven away from their stores, draining taxpayers’ coffers, putting local authorities and retailers in trouble.

Abandoned shopping carts are a scourge to neighborhoods, as carts clog intersections, sidewalks, and bus stops. They occupy disabled spaces in parking lots and wind out in streams, canals and parks. And they create a hazard by clogging the municipal sewer and garbage disposal system.

There is no national data on shopping cart losses, but U.S. retailers lose an estimated tens of millions of dollars each year replacing lost and damaged carts, shopping cart experts say. They pay vendors to save abandoned carts and fine municipalities for breaking rules on shopping carts. If there aren’t enough carts for customers during peak shopping hours, sales will also be missed.

Last year, Walmart paid the small town of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, $23,000 in fines related to abandoned shopping carts, said town Select Board member Sean McDonald.

Shopping carts loose.

Dartmouth Public Employees have placed more than 100 Walmart carts scattered around the city in one of the city’s warehouses. When Walmart applied for a new construction permit, the company was told it would have to pay thousands of dollars in daily storage fees to the city, McDonald said.

“It is a matter of safety that these carts are maintained on the hill. I had one left on the road while I was driving,” he said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I’m angry.”

More municipalities around the country are introducing laws to crack down on stray carts. They are imposing charges on retailers for abandoned carts and return service, and requiring stores to install systems that allow them to lock or seize their carts. Some localities are fining people who remove carts from stores.

The city council in Ogden, Utah, this month approved fines for people who take or occupy shopping carts. The measure would allow retailers to charge $2 a day to store and retrieve lost carts.

“Abandoned shopping carts are on the rise on public and private property throughout the city,” the council said in its summary of the bill. “They are spending a lot of time picking up the carts and returning them or dropping them off,” city officials said.

Lost shopping carts are a growing problem, said Matthew Dodson, president of Retail Marketing Services, which provides cart removal, repair and other retailers in several western states.

For the busy 2022 holiday season, Retail Shopping Services leased additional carts to retailers, and returned approximately 91% of its 2,000 carts, down from 96% last year.

Dodson and others in the shopping cart industry attribute the increase in lost carts to a variety of reasons, including homeless people using them to hold onto their belongings or as shelters. Due to rising housing prices, lack of affordable housing and other factors, homelessness is on the rise in many major cities. There were also people stealing carts for scrap metal.

Some people, especially in cities, also use supermarket carts to bring their groceries home from the store. Other carts stay away from parking lots in inclement weather or if they are not closed at night.

Of course, the problem of empty shopping carts is not new. After moving in in the late 1930s, they began leaving stores almost immediately.

In a 1962 article, the New York Times warned, “A New Danger Threatens the Safety of Drivers in Stores.” “It’s the Shopping Cart,” Another New York Times article in 1957 called the trend “cart-napping.”

There’s even a book called “The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification” for the phenomenon and identification system for stray shopping carts, like birdwatching guides.

Edward Tenner, a distinguished scholar at the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, says the misuse of everyday objects like shopping carts is an example of “deceptive art.”

It’s similar to the 1990s when tilapia fishermen in Malaysia stole pay phones and attached the receivers to powerful batteries to make noise to attract fish, he said.

Tenner hypothesizes that people take shopping carts from stores because they are so versatile and unavailable elsewhere: “There’s really no legal way for an individual to buy a supermarket-grade shopping cart.”

Supermarkets carry 200 to 300 shopping carts per store, while big-box chains carry up to 800. Depending on the size and model, the carts cost as much as $250, said Alex Poulos, director of sales for RW Rogers Company. Other tools to stores.

Stores and cart manufacturers have increased the size of carts over the years to encourage shoppers to buy more items.

Stores have introduced a number of cart security and anti-theft systems over the years, such as cart collars and, more recently, wheels that automatically lock if a cart moves too far from the store. (Viral videos on Tik Tok show Target customers struggling to push their tires around vehicles.)

Gatekeeper Systems, which provides shopping cart control measures to the nation’s largest retailers, saw increased demand for its SmartWheel radio frequency locks during the pandemic.

At four Wegmans stores, the doorman is using wheel locks.

“The cost of replacing the carts, as well as the cost of finding the missing carts and returning them to the store, made us decide to implement the technology,” a Wegmans spokesperson said.

German grocery chain Aldi, which is expanding rapidly in the United States, is one of the few American retailers that requires customers to insert a quarter to open a cart.

Coin-lock shopping cart systems are popular in Europe, and Polos said more U.S. companies are requesting coin-lock systems given the costs of runaway shopping carts.

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