Seattle’s ban on plastic bags may be good for the planet, but some local store owners say it has proven catastrophic for their bottom line.
Mike Duke, who runs the Lake City Grocery Outlet grocery store, said that since the City Council unanimously passed the ban last July, he has lost at least $5,000 in shoplifted produce and between $3,000-$4,000 in swiped frozen food.
‘We’ve never lost that much before,’ Duke told KBOI News.
Besides outlawing the use of plastic bags, businesses in Seattle are also required to charge a nickel for paper bags in order to encourage consumers to use the more environmentally friendly reusable bags.
But according to Duke, the ‘green’ canvas totes make it much harder for loss-prevention officers to detect what the customers have purchased and what they may have brought with them, which inevitably gives rise to shoplifting, SeattlePI.com reported.
According to data released in January by Seattle Public Utilities, more than 21 per cent of business owners surveyed said increased shoplifting because of the plastic bag ban has become a problem.
Eight per cent of the responders called shoplifting a ‘big’ problem, while about six per cent said it was a ‘medium’ or ‘small’ problem.
‘Across the United States we have seen these bag bans, and the shoplifting has always had a substantial leap,’ Jan Gee, president of the Washington Food Industry Association, said to KBOI, ‘and so it was not a surprise to us.’
However, results of another survey conducted by an environmental advocacy group that same month found the ban ‘popular and successful,’ and had no mention of a spike in shoplifting.
The Lake City grocery store operator said that another negative side effect of the plastic-bag ban is an increase in the number of hand baskets lifted from the supermarket to the tune of thousands of dollars.
Shoplifters would load up their baskets with groceries – both stolen and purchased – and walk out of the store, Duke said.
In a desperate bid to stop the rampant shoplifting, the owner attempted to get rid of the hand baskets, but his customers were not happy with the move.
But loss of revenue due to shoplifting is not the only problem that has been linked to the ban.
According to a study released last summer, the bag ban coincided with a jump in the number of E. coli cases and a spike in deaths caused by food-borne illnesses.
Another study published in 2011 found E. coli in eight per cent of all reusable bags from randomly selected individuals in California and Arizona stores.
Washing the bags eliminated nearly all of the harmful bacteria, but evidence presented in the paper suggested that not all consumers bother to do it.