Plastic Grocery Bag Ban Blamed for Increased Shoplifting

Banning plastic bags from grocery stores in recent years seems to be the hot new trend for progressive enclaves like Los Angeles and Seattle that, you know, care about the environment. Because apparently using plastic bags to carry your food purchases home is the equivalent of clubbing baby seals. Or something.

Anyway, we’ve known for a while that reusable grocery bags can make you ill (it seems that not everyone knows you’re supposed to wash them after carrying your raw chicken home in them), but now a new unintended consequence has come up -- shoplifting.


At least one Seattle grocery store owner is claiming that the recently enacted, unanimously passed plastic bag ban has contributed to the loss of at least $5,000 in produce, and between $3,000 and $4,000 in frozen foods. Mike Duke opened the Lake Valley grocery store in June 2011, and says that his losses were minimal until last July when the bag ban took effect.x

Duke says the shoplifters’ patterns are difficult to detect, but the increased theft probably has to with the ability for a nefarious person to more easily conceal items they steal. When they come into the store with their own bags, things may go unnoticed at checkout, or they could simply claim they’d brought it in with them.

In January, six months after the bag ban began (say that five times fast), Seattle Public Utilities released data that said that 21.1 percent of business owners surveyed believed that it was troublesome and led to an increase in shoplifting.

What’s a business owner to do when regulations cause him to lose money? Duke has considered asking customers to check their bags at the counter before shopping, but thinks that would be too burdensome to customers and staff. Banning reusable bags and backpacks altogether would likely hinder business, as Seattle residents expect to use their own bags so they don’t end up looking like this guy from Portlandia.

It’s a conundrum, all right. The only thing we can say for certain is that whenever government comes in to “solve” a problem, it just creates a bunch of new ones.

What do you think about the plastic bag-banning trend? Good idea or bad idea?

Image via LaurelsPhotos/Flickr

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