NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Plastic Bag Ban Leads to Increased Theft

March 6, 2013

The city of Seattle passed a plastic bag ban in 2012 aimed at improving the environment, businesses and the community in general. Unfortunately the ban, that also requires businesses to charge a nickel for paper bags, has had unintended consequences. Indeed, retail theft has surged after plastic bags were banned, says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

  • In place of plastic bags, shoppers enter the store with reusable bags and can more easily conceal items they steal.
  • Even with loss-prevention officers and many security cameras, stores are finding it difficult to distinguish between items that a customer has paid for and items that the customer may have brought with them.
  • A January survey by Seattle Public Utilities reported that 21.1 percent of business owners believe the increase in shoplifting is due to the plastic bag ban.
  • One store, Lake City Grocery Outlet, estimates a loss of at least $5,000 in produce and between $3,000 and $4,000 in frozen food.
  • The Lake City Grocery Outlet also saw an increase in the number of grocery baskets that were stolen.

The reusable bags have also been suspected of increasing the risk of food-borne illness, as shoppers neglect to wash their bag. Studies of San Francisco, which banned plastic bags in 2007, have shown there are negative repercussions for public health.

  • One study reported that after the bag ban there was a spike in the number of E. coli cases and increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses.
  • Another study found that 8 percent of all reusable bags contained E. coli and doubted how often shoppers actually wash their bag.

Source: Casey McNerthney, "Store Owners Say Plastic Bag Ban Causes More Shoplifting," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 28, 2013.


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