Businesses: Environmentalists’ plastic bag bans fuel shoplifting

Spencer Amaral Contributor
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Banning plastic bags was supposed to save the planet, but it looks like those bans are only enabling shoplifters.

A Seattle, Washington ban on plastic shopping bags has resulted in spikes in shoplifting and net losses of thousands of dollars, according to local business owners.

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,” Duke told local KBOI News.

Twenty-one percent of Seattle business owners say that shoplifting has become a problem since the bag ban took effect last July, according to a poll conducted in January by Seattle Public Utilities. Eight percent said shoplifting had become a “big” problem because of the bag ban, while approximately six percent said it was a “medium” or “small” problem, respectively.

“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, officials from Seattle Public Utilities say the results are less dire than they might appear.

“Even though the stores saw some level of a problem, the overall feeling is that this isn’t much of a problem,” said Dick Lilly, who manages the plastic bag ban for Seattle Public Utilities. The survey shows that nearly four in five businesses either thought the bag ban had not resulted in an increase in shoplifting at all, or had no response to the question.

But some residents are still concerned.

“I’ve actually seen [the shoplifting] happen,” Seattle resident Ramona Lund told KBOI, as she stood at the heart of Wallingford’s shopping district. “You can just see when they walk through and they load up their bag and they just go out the door.”

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Spencer Amaral