An older apartment complex stands at the west end of my alley.   Today, I was walking down that alley and noticed an accumulation of eight shopping carts beside a city Dumpster. They were scrunched together.  I wondered if they were all the work of one person leaving them one by one over several days or weeks.

I decided to get my pickup truck and deposit the carts at the stores only a couple blocks from my house.  I loaded the five that belonged to CVS Pharmacy, one for Smart and Final and one belonging to the Dollar Store.  I didn’t have the space  in the truck for the bigger, red plastic Target cart.  My truck was full. It looked like tangled steel, lying every which way in the truck.

At the Dollar Store, I informed a manager that they’d better clean it up before putting it out for reuse.  The Smart and Final cart looked clean, so I just put it with those outside the store and didnt’ bother to find a staffer to tell them they were getting a cart from a couple blocks away.  At CVS, I went inside and told one employee and suggested his batch of carts be cleaned up before being put to use again.  As I unloaded them, a different worker came out and I repeated that the carts really needed to be cleaned up.  Yet, he pushed them into the stall where the others were kept.  Oh, well.

Years ago, I became a kind of shopping cart activist seeking to get the City of Tempe to instate stricter rules on shopping carts. I wrote a couple columns in the Tribune. I even attended a meeting in June 1998 in Phoenix where cities were looking at developing a Valley-wide policy to deal with the removal of carts from shopping areas and their ending up at bus stops, in alleys and on vacant land. I still have the agenda, “Abandon Shopping Cart Meeting.”   In 1998, I wrote then-City Manager Gary Brown a letter calling for a cart crackdown.  My letter was accompanied by eight pictures of  multiple carts weirdly left  in odd places around Tempe, often really in the way of traffic.  I noted how many shopping carts regularly are found at the bottom of canals when they are drained.

I wrote a “Town Crier” column for Oct. 19, 1997, titled “Put it back! Shopping cart clutter a hazard, trashes our community.” In it, I said, “I just don’t get it about shopping carts.  How is it that a tipped over cart can lie along a major street for days, even weeks, without being retrieved? Why does a  community that prides itself on neatness and everything being in order allow shopping carts to trash the landscape or be a hazard blocking sidewalks and driveways?”

I continued, “Why do  consumer put up with shopping carts taking up stalls in parking lots or blocking passage through driving lanes in parking lots?  Why aren’t all retailers who own carts required to have cart stands that are empltied regularly. And why don’t we use dirty looks, peer pressure or whatever else it takes to expect shoppers to return cards to those stands  or even to stores where we first got them?

“Why should we be so nonchalant about carts and figure ‘those stores have kids who’ll come by in a minute to retrieve this cart?  It gives them a job’?  Baloney.  Why do we allow shopping carts to sit in  parking lot, needing only a wind gust or some nudge to send them rolling into the sides of cars, chipping paint or causing dents?  What gives shoppers the right to just unload their goods into their car trunks and push their carts up against concrete parking barriers? Even if you have a young child, ma’am, you can still do it. Many parents with infants do it all the time.

“Why don’t stores and strip malls behold their fleets of haphazardly scattered carts, sometimes abandoned beside their fancy signs and say, ‘We won’t allow this eyesore?’  Why don’t retailers get tough on those who would take a steel cart and go seven blocks and abandon it without any intentions of returning it to the store?  Don’t all of us shoppers pay for those carts, the cost of commercial service that returns them or the cost or repair by The Cart Doctor in Mesa or some other refurbishers?

“… Some people without transportation often are dependent on a sturdy shopping cart, but why can’t those users be expected to check out their carts as customers check out a rug shampoo machine?  Maybe a little refundable deposit, at least, a name, adress and phone number and a reasonable time when it will be returned.  Better yet, stores could probably line up the truly needy with usable carts retired from their fleets — ones they can keep for themselves.

“More than a few times, I have stopped along my street, loaded up an ugly, abandoned shopping cart and taken it back to the store advertised on the side, all the time thinking the store realy didn’t care whether it got that  cart back or not.  Give folks a buck for retrieving  an errant cart,and the problem will largely be solved. Or would you argue more carts would find themselves ‘lost’ so they could be ‘found’ for easy cash?  … Come on, folks, just put your cart where it belongs. Abandoned shopping carts are a safety hazrd, an eyestore and a real sign of laziness.”