Abandoned shopping carts are a public nuisance

Some cities have laws making stores retrieve stolen carts when they are reported. But not here.

We live in Everett, which has numerous alleys in residential areas. We get regular through traffic — and not just from neighbors and garbage trucks.

Opening up my gate one day to take in the trash can, I was met with a shopping cart. There were some empty bags inside. I waited a day or two for someone to come back and claim it (or for the next passerby to take their turn). But there it sat.

Chances are good you’ve seen an abandoned shopping cart yourself, probably within the past week.

They’re annoying.

It’s about more than neighborhood blight.

Carts can block sidewalks and streets, ding cars, and end up in road gutters where they catch debris and become dams.

Stealing a shopping cart from the parking area of a retail store is a misdemeanor under state law, and city law as well.

Some cities have declared abandoned shopping carts a public nuisance — and gone a step further.

Auburn, Renton and Yakima each have laws that require stores to make efforts to prevent shopping cart theft, and to retrieve the carts if they do get abandoned somewhere. If not, they might face a fine. Cities in Oregon, California and other states have similar laws, and companies have cropped up in those states to help stores round up their free-wheeling carts.

Federal Way does not have such a “shopping cart jail” law, but its police department does offer a volunteer-based cart removal service. In the program’s first five years, volunteers returned 15,000 abandoned shopping carts to stores, according to a story by the Federal Way Mirror, a Herald sibling publication.

The effort saves retailers as well as residents. Shopping carts can cost between $75-$150, with some fancy ones priced between $300-$400, the story reports.

Everett also considers abandoned carts a nuisance.

But the city does not have a law requiring stores to remove them, nor does it offer its own service.

There’s a form on the city’s website to complain about abandoned shopping carts in yards, but it’s for a code violation. (And I wasn’t about to file a complaint against myself.)

Though it’s not the law, stores often help anyway, according to the city’s code enforcement and police staff.

“Stores will often collect their carts if people call to let them know where they are,” city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said.

But if not?

“It would be the responsibility of the property owner to remove the cart,” she said. “If the cart is not removed in a timely manner, a neighbor could contact our code enforcement office and a case would be opened.”

Don’t need to tell me twice.

I went out to see what store the cart came from, or possibly douse myself in hand sanitizer and prepare for a stroll. I opened the gate.

The cart had moved on.

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