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Stray shopping carts: The clutter continues in Federal Way

A rusted shopping cart accompanies Paul McCracken at a bus stop near South 324th Street and Pacific Highway South. The cart, which was not labeled with the store from which it originates, is one of many that can can be spotted downtown.  - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
A rusted shopping cart accompanies Paul McCracken at a bus stop near South 324th Street and Pacific Highway South. The cart, which was not labeled with the store from which it originates, is one of many that can can be spotted downtown.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

Federal Way is still yo-yoing on how to deal with abandoned shopping carts.

In January, the city hired Northeast Tacoma's Cart Recovery to do a 16-hour sweep of the city. The company collected 327 abandoned shopping carts and returned them to their rightful owners. The city then promised to monitor the shopping cart presence along Federal Way's streets, at bus stops and in various other locations. Following the sweep, things were looking good. But as summer crept up, abandoned shopping carts began to appear once again.

In January, the city sent letters to businesses owning shopping carts. It requested businesses do their part in improving residents' quality of life by retrieving their carts. The city suggested businesses could help by hiring a private, fee-based cart return service, assigning staff to do cart sweeps, or installing a state-of-the-art anti-removal system. The letter warned that the city would monitor businesses' ability to address carts voluntarily, but would possibly pursue civil citations, fines or penalties for businesses that failed to keep their carts on site.

The three-month monitoring period took place, city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said. Staff was seeing an average of 17-30 abandoned carts throughout the city, she said.

"In May, it just really ballooned," Farmer said.

Between 70 and 90 shopping buggies were found abandoned that month, she said. June's numbers decreased. July brought another jump in the number of carts left littering the city. The third week of September saw 101 abandoned carts, Farmer said.

"We've seen inconsistencies in the carts," she said.

Because of those inconsistencies, the monitoring has continued, but no further contact with business owners or the city council has been made. Farmer said she was unsure why there has been an inconsistent number of carts from month to month. She wondered if Cart Recovery was still in business.

Owner Kevin Crossen said he is still in business and has lost only one customer since the January sweep. That customer appears to be retrieving its own carts, he said.

The professional shopping cart retrieving business serves 10 Federal Way companies — many of them large retail and grocery stores. Stores such as Target, Safeway, Top Food and Drug, Winco and Albertson's are regular customers. They pay Cart Recovery to find shopping carts belonging to them and return the carts to their respective stores.

In July, Cart Recovery collected 356 abandoned carts, Crossen said. In August, it picked up 383 carts, he said. Last year, Cart Recovery picked up an average of 450 carts per month for its clients. Cart Recovery does not pick up carts belonging to non-customers. Though he could not explain the recent jump in abandoned carts, Crossen said the problem has not changed since January.

"It's an ongoing thing," he said. "There's lots of little stores that don't do anything."

Crossen said he sees why city officials want their streets to be free of the carts, but doesn't see any easy solution to the problem. Cities such as Auburn address their abandoned carts through an ordinance. There, abandoned shopping carts are a public nuisance and can be impounded. Businesses are charged $30 if their carts must be retrieved, according to Auburn municipal code. If the carts are not claimed within 14 days, the city disposes of them and charges the owner the $30 impound fee plus a $70 disposal fee, according to the code.

The Federal Way City Council has generally seen this method as unfriendly to businesses. Crossen agrees.

"All it does is pawn off the cost on the store," he said. "It's not the stores that are walking away with the carts."

Farmer said the city has not had any other contact with businesses in possession of carts since January. There are no known plans to address the city council on the issue at this time, she said.

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