Survey: plastic bag bans tied to increase in shoplifting

SEATTLE -- If Washington state grocers did the math, the number eight would equal thousands.

That's because, in the eight months since enacting a ban on plastic bags in stores, Seattle merchants have lost untold thousands of dollars in merchandise, industry experts said.

"Across the United States we have seen these bag bans, and the shoplifting has always had a substantial leap," said Jan Gee, president of the Washington Food Industry Association, "and so it was not a surprise to us."

In fact, one in five Seattle businesses say increased shoplifting due to the bag ban is a problem. The results were published in a survey by Seattle Public Utilities last month and originally reported in the

"I've actually seen (the shoplifting) happen," said Seattle resident Ramona Lund, 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."

Store owners report people walking into stores, hiding items in a reusable bag, and walking out, Gee said. The difficulty is in telling what comes into the shop concealed in a bag versus what is going out.

The problem isn't contained to Seattle, she added, given the rising popularity of recycled bags across Puget Sound.

"We're having increasing problems along the I-5 corridor with organized retail crime," Gee said. "They're the ones that start shoving these products in these reusable bags, in their clothing, so it's quite organized and it's difficult for our stores in those kinds of cases."

Most shoppers were stunned when asked about the connection between shoplifting and reusable bags.

"Wow. That's unfortunate," said Sam Bernoski of Seattle, before popping into a Wallingford grocery store. "I hadn't heard anything of that, but obviously that's no good."

"I never shoplifted in my life so I can't speak to that," added shopper Amanda Franklin, "(but) I could see how that could happen."

Dick Lilly, who oversees the plastic bag ban for Seattle Public Utilities, couched the survey results showing the link between reusable bags and shoplifting.

"Even though the stores saw some level of a problem, the overall feeling is that this isn't much of a problem," Lilly said.

Industry experts add that the thefts hurt all shoppers in the long run.

"This adds to our food costs. We have to absorb those losses," Gee said. "All of those customers are paying for that loss."
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