CARBONDALE - At City Market, the only store in town affected by Carbondale's ban on plastic shopping bags, customers apparently have been walking out with hand-carried shopping baskets and not bringing them back.
Hundreds of the small, black plastic baskets with double wire handles have gone missing since the ban went into effect May 1, according to Kelli McGannon, spokesperson for City Market.
"Prior to the ban, we didn't experience a loss of shopping baskets," McGannon said. "It is obviously a result of people who come in and are not prepared with a reusable bag or to pay a fee, and they have been using the baskets instead."
Under the town ordinance, plastic carry-out bags are banned. Shoppers can use their own bags, purchase a 20-cent paper bag or buy a $1 reusable bag.
McGannon said the store has ordered more baskets to keep them readily available for shoppers who are just picking up a few items. But the store will also take back baskets that have wandered off-site, no questions asked.
"I can certainly say anybody who wants to bring in a basket, we will give complete amnesty. We understand its convenience, and I don't think anybody does it with ill intentions," McGannon said.
The missing baskets were not reported to the police, she noted.
Mona Newton, director of the Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE), the nonprofit organization that launched the bag-ban in Carbondale and Aspen, said the missing baskets represent a chance to encourage resource conservation.
"It is an unintended consequence," said Newton of the vanishing baskets, "and it's unfortunate that people are choosing to steal rather than pay 20 cents."
McGannon said she's not aware of a problem with disappearing baskets in Aspen.
She said the store's main goal is to keep grocery costs down by avoiding unnecessary losses. She said the store staff is experimenting with some techniques to avoid basket theft, such as placing groceries into wheeled carts instead of back into the baskets.
"We support sustainability and want to help when we can," McGannon said. "In those times when you do forget, we do have bags at the store for $1. There are affordable reusable bag options at the store."
Newton said despite the missing baskets, the bag ban still makes sense.
"I think we view it as a really great learning opportunity about how we can reduce our waste," Newton said.
She noted that CORE also has free reusable bags, made by Garfield County Sewing Works, for anyone stopping by CORE's office at the Third Street Center in Carbondale.