When Litter Has Four Wheels

Carol Levin lives in Woodland Hills

Abandoned shopping carts are a blight on streets from Beverly Hills to Woodland Hills. They represent theft that we pay for at the checkout stand.

This Target shopping cart I photographed sat on the Canoga Avenue on-ramp to the 101 freeway for approximately three weeks before anyone removed it.

I have asked the management of every store in my neighborhood what they would do if I walked out of their store with merchandise that I had not paid for. Each manager answered without hesitation, "Oh, we would stop you."

Then why not stop me if I walked off the lot with a shopping cart? Isn't that stealing as well?

"Well, yes, but we cannot offend our guests." said a Target spokesman. Each manager I spoke to agreed that the situation was deplorable and that something should be done about it. They all mentioned the cost of each cart, anywhere from $100 to $500. They all confessed that the expense of retrieving lost carts was factored in their prices. Each cited a corporate policy against stopping people from leaving their property with carts.

They have absolutely no qualms, however, about offending anyone who may be parking a car in their lot while shopping elsewhere. They aggressively guard their turf and place intimidating signs spelling out exactly what will happen if anyone uses their parking spaces without patronizing their business.

It's time for these stores to take this problem more seriously. They should begin with a media campaign informing the public of their policy. They should place a flyer in every bag and place conspicuous signs around the stores and in the parking lots stating that due to complaints in the community, they will no longer allow carts to leave the lot. They should ask for cooperation and assure everyone that they will notice a difference at the checkout stand.

They should hire security guards to see that these carts do not leave the lot. They can sell or give away to low-income customers those small folding rolling carts that retail for around $22.

If we are further ignored, what can we do? Two things.

We can take the time and energy to complain to their CEOs by phone, fax or e-mail. Demand to have the carts picked up immediately.

We can ask the city to contract with the same companies that tow cars to begin rounding up shopping carts and levying a fine large enough for the store owners to take notice. Aren't abandoned shopping carts litter?

I realize that abandoned shopping carts are not in the same category as drive-by shootings. But like graffiti, it is a problem important enough for the well-being of our communities to finally be dealt with.

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