Plastic bag ban leads to nationwide increase in shoplifting rates

Richard Thompson Contributor
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On Friday, New Jersey Democratic operative James Devine was arrested for attempting to snatch $22 worth of merchandise from a local ShopRite pharmacy. Devine tried to smuggle lettuce, shampoo and protein powder out of the store, perhaps trying to hide the fact that he was about to make the world’s most disgusting salad.  To avoid detection, he stashed the goods in a reusable grocery bag.

What seems to be just another edition of Democrats doing dumb deeds actually represents a nationwide problem.  Thanks to laws in several major cities banning the use of plastic carryout bags in retail stores, there has been a spike in shoplifting incidents over the past couple years, a trend that business owners, law enforcement officials and customers have duly noted.

In 2011, Washington D.C. enforced a reusable bag tax and officials became steadily more suspicious of shoppers’ activities.

“Since the fee was established last year, we have noticed customers using traditional bags, along with less traditional pieces such as backpacks, to not only transport items from the store, but to carry items throughout the store,” spokesman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission of Washington D.C. Craig Muckle said in an interview with Washington City Paper.

This suspicion solidified into disturbing data a year later on the other side of the country. When a Seattle ordinance banning plastic bags took effect on July 2012, 21.1 percent of surveyed Seattle business owners said that the plastic bag ban led to an increase in shoplifting problems. Seattle’s Lake City Grocery Outlet, for instance, had thousands of dollars worth of goods stolen that year.

Austin, Texas instituted a plastic bag ban in March of this year and officials have noticed that shoplifters are trying to take advantage of the new law, though no conclusive data exists on the subject.

“We are getting a new type of offender that is taking advantage of the system,” Austin police officer David Silva said in an interview with the Leader-Telegram. Owners have also noted that the ban could make it easier for people to steal, and though theft rates have not substantially increased, it is difficult for store employees to differentiate between customers and shoplifters.

Many cities have instituted plastic ban bans or taxes amid environmental concerns, though many policy experts are not convinced of the productivity of these laws.

“Moving consumers away from plastic bags only pushes people to less environmentally friendly options such as paper bags, which require more energy to produce and transport, and reusable bags, which are not recyclable,” environmental policy expert Mark Daniels said in a 2011 New York Times interview.

San Francisco, California, which was the first U.S. city to ban plastic carryout bags in 2007, and Portland, Oregon are among the other cities that have instituted a bag ban.

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Richard Thompson