Orange for Home Depot, black for Safeway, red for Target, blue for Goodwill and green for Joann.
Volunteers who collected abandoned shopping carts from forests, along trails and in Kitsap County parks learned about the color scheme and which shopping cart belongs to which store.
As the homelessness crisis continues in Kitsap County, those working to keep forest areas clear for public use are finding it increasingly difficult to keep track of the number of dumped carts.
“It’s getting worse,” said Mary Earl, director of the Clear Creek Trail Task Force, whose volunteer members clean up the trails.
On the Clear Creek Trail, carts are commonplace: in the brush and on the trail. Earl even recently found an abandoned Dollar Tree cart in the Clear Creek, with incoming salmon cruising around it.
The contents of the carts recently collected by the volunteers varied: from fresh food to cut logs, from personal items to garbage.
Earl said she takes the carts she picks up to the nearest store. The number of carts to be returned is so high that she doesn’t even care if it’s the store the cart belongs to. She said she thinks businesses should take care of their property and participate in Silverdale’s street cleaning efforts, Earl said.
As community members volunteered to retrieve the carts, the county is evaluating possible solutions to the long-term problem, a county official said.
Role of Retailers in Preventing Cart Theft
Stores are aware of the problem of disappearing shopping carts, Target spokesman Brian Harper-Tibaldo said.
To fix the problem, Target is hiring a vendor to collect its baskets and return them to its stores, Harper-Tibaldo said.
In some Target locations, where cart theft is a serious problem, the company uses the “Gatekeeper” cart system. The system uses self-locking “smart wheels” with a radio frequency perimeter antenna to limit the distance the carts can be moved from the store.
But, the company does not consider its Silverdale location at 3201 NW Randall Way a location requiring the lockout system. The company recovers most of its shopping carts with the help of the vendor, Harper-Tibaldo said.
What can the department do?
Kitsap County does not have a specific program to recover carts and instead assists various community groups working to recover carts from public property.
The county is looking to other jurisdictions to explore possible solutions and is evaluating the best approaches for Kitsap County, Kitsap County spokesman Doug Bear said, but he described the issue as “a relatively new area in all jurisdictions”.
One of the hurdles is figuring out who pays for the cost of returning carts to stores, Bear said.
The City of Renton passed an ordinance in 2016 that allows the city to seize any lost, stolen, or abandoned cart found in the city. Owners of seized carts are notified and have 14 days to recover the carts. They are liable to a fine of $100 for each cart impounded by the city, according to the order.
The Oregon-based Northwest Grocery Association, a lobbying organization for grocery stores, is working to expand its shopping cart recovery program, which operates successfully in Oregon, to Washington state, said Melinda Merrill, from the association.
The cart recovery program puts a sticker with a QR code and phone number on each cart so people can easily report abandoned carts by calling the number or scanning the QR code. NFM Cart Rescue, a company owned by the Northwest Grocery Association, operates the program. NFM is working to get retailers to join the program and hire staff to pick up carts, Merrill said.
Retailers who use the service provided by NFM will pay the cost, Merrill said. The company would also send staff to pick up the carts on a regular basis.
There hasn’t been a specific timeline for when the program will start in Washington state or which retailers will participate, but the association is working out the details to run the program in Kitsap County, Merrill said.
“Kitsap is one of the communities we hope to roll out,” Merrill said. “It’s on our radar screen and it’s a priority for us.”
Get to the root of the problem
Bear said the abandoned cart problem has “definitely” been exacerbated by the county’s homelessness issues.
Anton Preisinger, founder of Northwest Hospitality, leads his organization’s volunteers to return hundreds of shopping carts to business owners while cleaning up encampments in Kitsap County.
While he said volunteers are happy to return carts to business owners, he said the biggest problem abandoned carts have is the shortage of affordable housing in Kitsap and the lack of resources to help those without -shelter.
“The shopping carts would disappear if we could accommodate people,” Preisinger said.