When the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a ban on plastic bags and required businesses to charge a nickel for paper bags, city leaders believed it would be better all around...
But the bag ban is contributing to thousands of dollars in losses for at least one Seattle grocery store, and questions have been raised about the risk of food-borne illness from reusable bags that shoppers don't often wash.
Mike Duke, who operates the Lake City Grocery Outlet with his wife, said that since the plastic-bag ban started last July, he's lost at least $5,000 in produce and between $3,000 and $4,000 in frozen food.
"We've never lost that much before," said Duke, who found those numbers through inventories of stolen and damaged goods.
The Dukes opened the Lake City grocery store in June 2011, and Mike Duke said in the year before the plastic-bag ban losses in frozen food and produce were a small fraction of what he's seeing now. As he explained to seattlepi.com and also the North Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the shoplifters' patterns are difficult to detect.
They enter the store with reusable bags and can more easily conceal items they steal. The reusable bags require staff to watch much more closely, and even though the store has a loss-prevention officer and more than a dozen security cameras, it's tough to tell what a customer has paid for and what they may already have brought with them.
According to data released in January by Seattle Public Utilities, 21.1 percent of business owners surveyed said increased shoplifting because of the plastic bag ban was a problem. Results of another survey released in January – one done by an environmental advocacy group that found the ban "popular and successful" – didn't mention the problem of shoplifting.
Seattle's push for reusable bags – and shoplifters who have plagued several Lake City businesses – leave the Dukes in a predicament. Asking customers to check reusable bags at the counter would be burdensome to customers and staff, and prohibiting reusable bags and backpacks likely wouldn't work well in Seattle, which other business owners said is known for grand environmental ideas that can hinder small business efforts.
The Lake City Grocery Outlet also saw a dramatic increase in the number of hand baskets stolen after Seattle's plastic bag ban was initiated.
Shoplifters would fill up their baskets – some with purchased items and others with stolen groceries – and walk out of the store at 3020 N.E. 127th St. Duke would see the hand baskets discarded around Lake City and said the losses from the baskets and merchandise are in the thousands of dollars.
So last fall, the store did away with the remaining hand baskets to try and curb theft. But that frustrated some customers, and hasn't substantially stopped losses.
San Francisco was the first major U.S. city to ban plastic grocery bags in 2007. Multiple research papers have said there are negative repercussions to public health, though supporters question or discount the findings. One study released late last summer cited emergency room treatment data and said after the bag ban began there was a spike in the number of E. coli cases and an increase of deaths from foodborne illnesses.
Another paper from 2011 found E. coli in 8 percent of all reusable bags from randomly selected individuals at California and Arizona grocery stores. Washing the bags eliminated 99.9 percent of the pathogens, according to that study – though it raised questions of how often shoppers actually do....
More at the link.