News stories making the rounds recently claim that plastic bag bans can lead to increased shoplifting. According to seattlepi.com, a survey issued by Seattle Public Utilities found that shoplifting has increased as a problem since the city council passed a bag ban.
According to the article, one store owner says shoplifters bring their own reusable bags into the store, then hide merchandise inside and leave the store without paying.
However, the survey quoted was not scientific or conducted by researchers, but was distributed online using web-based software to assess some reactions to the ordinance. The ordinance, banning plastic bags and placing a five cent charge on paper bags, was adopted in December 2011 and went into effect in July 2012.
Of those responding to the survey, only 16% were grocery retailers; most were either small retailers or gift stores. While shoplifting appears to be a problem for some of the respondents (14.3% said it was a medium sized or big problem), the vast majority (85.7%) disagree. Most said it was either not a problem (59.6%), a small problem (6.8%) or not applicable to their store (19.3%).
In addition, nearly half of those surveyed (44%) said only a small percentage of their customers bring in their own bags when shopping.
Aside from the fact that the survey method was less than rigorous, local police and other business owners believe the location of the store cited in the article (in an area with a high homeless population) is the most likely cause of the shoplifting problem.
The bottom line: no one likes shoplifting, but the connection between bag bans and shoplifting is flimsy at best.