Is Seattle Plastic Bag Ban Actually Leading To More Shoplifting?

Last summer, Seattle enacted a ban on plastic shopping bags in the city with the intention of cutting down on waste and litter. Some reports claim that this ban has led to an increase in people shoplifting with the aid of reusable cloth bags, but do the numbers back that assertion up?

According to the store owners in this SeattlePI.com story, shoplifters are increasingly walking out the doors with items in their cloth bags that weren’t paid for.

One area businessman claims he’s lost between $8,000 and $9,000 in produce and frozen food to theft since July. He says this is significantly more than he’d been losing before the bag ban.

While we have no reason to doubt his statement, the actual data cited in the SeattlePI report does not necessarily support this idea that there has been a widespread surge in shoplifting since the ban began.

The folks at Seattle Public Utilities recently released the results of a survey of store-owners in the area. [PDF] When asked to what extent these businesses were concerned about increased shoplifting due to the bag ban, 59.6% of responding stores said it was “not a problem” with 19.3% declaring that this issue was not applicable. Together, that means that nearly 4-in-5 Seattle stores surveyed don’t seem to think the bag ban has led to more shoplifting.

This does not discredit or diminish the concerns of those businesses that are indeed seeing an increased level of theft, but it does seem to imply that there might be more to the shoplifting spike than merely taking away the plastic bag option at check-out. And let’s not forget that this ban hasn’t even been in place for a year, so these higher theft numbers could be anomalous in the long-run. It’s also possible that some stores have been getting ripped off by shoplifters and have yet to realize this fact.

We would love to hear from business owners, managers, and store employees with an opinion on this matter, especially those in areas where plastic bags are banned or heavily regulated. If you feel like you have a particular insight into bag bans and shoplifting, shoot us an e-mail at tips@consumerist.com.