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Abandoned shopping carts: Volunteers tackle Federal Way eyesore

In this January 2009 photo, Cart Recovery employee Gary Wieburg unloads shopping carts during a 16-hour effort to retrieve the abandoned items. - Mirror file photo
In this January 2009 photo, Cart Recovery employee Gary Wieburg unloads shopping carts during a 16-hour effort to retrieve the abandoned items.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

For years, the City of Federal Way has contemplated how best to tackle the problem of abandoned shopping carts. A new pick-up program, headed by volunteers, may be the solution.

In the past, Northeast Tacoma company Cart Recovery, owned and operated by Kevin Crossen, contracted with 10 Federal Way grocers and retailers to retrieve and return shopping carts that had been wheeled off site. Cart Recovery picked up roughly 350 abandoned shopping carts each month, Crossen said.

The business shut down at the end of August. Some capital improvements were needed to keep it running and Crossen, whose company picked up carts for 63 King County customers, wasn't making enough off the business to pay for the improvements.

"I was just kind of done with it," he said. "I'd gotten kind of tired of being the middleman between the cities and the stores."

Federal Way has since started a volunteer-run program in an effort to clean Federal Way of abandoned carts. Police Cmdr. Chris Norman oversees the program. Public safety volunteer Dan Goede is heading the Cart Recovery Team. Goede said he volunteered as a way to keep Federal Way free from blight and to give back to the police department.

The program, for a small cost, will rid Federal Way of items that are a public nuisance and potential safety and health hazards, Norman said.

"The accumulation of wrecked and dismantled abandoned shopping carts tends to create conditions that reduce property values, and promote blight and deterioration," according to a police staff report.

The program is in a pilot stage. Individuals collecting the carts all serve as public safety volunteers. The team will use a second-tier city vehicle with high mileage and a rarely used trailer to pick up the carts. Volunteers will canvas the city at least once a week looking for stray carts, Goede said.

The team has done two official pick-ups so far, focusing on downtown. The first pick-up brought in 22 carts in 90 minutes, and the second pick-up yielded 18 carts in an hour.

"The volunteers are certainly gung-ho about it," Norman said.

The decision to pursue the program did not come hastily. The city and police knew it would take volunteers to get the work done, Norman said.

"We certainly did some soul searching internally before we decided to take this on," he said.

The program's expenditures are minimal. Safety lighting for the trailer and vests for the volunteers were purchased and provided by the city. Rain gear may be bought in the future. The cost of gas is another expenditure.

"It's certainly not going to knock a big hole in the city's budget," Norman said.

The effort is expected to improve Federal Way's aesthetics. The city has been concerned about the number of carts left street-side, but has been reluctant to pay to have them picked up, as the carts belong to retailers, not the city. The city was also hesitant to pass regulations that charged fees to businesses that didn't actively pursue keeping their carts on site or picking them up once they were taken off site. Such fees are not considered business friendly. As a result, carts would sit abandoned for long periods of time. Carts not belonging to grocers or retailers that contracted with Cart Recovery were rarely retrieved at all.

In January 2009, the city hired Cart Recovery to do a 16-hour sweep for abandoned carts downtown, and 327 carts were recovered. Crossen will work with the volunteers and Norman to pass on tips and other information about cart pick-up.

Norman said he will take a multi-pronged approach to keeping the city free of abandoned shopping buggies. Public education efforts will be included in the program. In the future, the city may consider issuing civil infractions with minimal fines attached to individuals seen removing shopping carts from their rightful premises, Norman said. Grocers and retailers will continue to receive periodic notice from the city asking them to keep carts on site.

Report a cart

Report an abandoned shopping cart by calling (253) 835-6774. The city will soon feature more information about the Cart Recovery Team at www.cityoffederalway.com.

By the numbers

Cart Recovery retrieved an average of 341 abandoned carts from January to July. The company contracted with Federal Way's Albertson's, Top Food and Drug, Target, both Wal-Marts, Winco, and four Safeway stores. In the past seven months, the most abandoned carts were generated from the Wal-Mart on South 314th Street and Albertson's on South 312th Street, according to Cart Recovery data.

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