The first time I saw a person half a mile from the grocery store blithely pushing a grocery store cart home, I was aghast. Now I take little notice. Last year, a northern Ohio river cleanup group removed over 100 carts that had formed a dam in a local creek. The carts came from a nearby shopping center where they had been discarded by thieves using them to carry groceries part of the way home.
Each of these incidents took money out of my pocket, or yours. The average shopping carts costs between $125-175. While stats are hard to come by, if one extrapolates from the city of Seattle's estimate that up to 1,000 a year disappear from that city (a very low figure, imho), on a per capita basis this means over half-a-million carts disappear annually. That's a lot of can carriers for the homeless, impromptu barbecues, and downhill racers. The government has even designated February Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month
Expect to see more innovations to fight this growing problem. Wireless tracking devices are becoming more widely adopted, for example, as the carts become more expensive.
Another issue with carts is liability, as in, who pays if a rogue cart pushed by the wind smacks into the door of my car in the grocery parking lot? The answer is not clear-cut, but apparently depends on the attention the store pays to its carts. If they try to keep the lot clear of loose carts (and you do know that it's rude to leave your cart in the middle of the parking space, right?) then you may have not sustainable claim against them.
Shopping carts are essential to the grocery business, and groceries are essential to my business; without them, I couldn't blog (or, eventually, breath). I resent having to pay a little extra on every box of muesli because some people treat them as a giveaway item.