Off your trolley ?

The dumped supermarket trolley has, for some time, been an iconic representation of littered and fly-tipped areas. Perhaps only bicycles have come close to knocking trolleys off their pedestal as the stereotypical dumped object.

But what are the facts and current thinking on dumped supermarket trolleys ?

Defra (Department for Food and Rural Affairs) estimated in 2007 that at least 10,000 supermarket trolleys are stolen every year in England. The cost of replacing each trolley is, apparently, an amazing £80-£250, so that amounts to an annual cost to supermarkets of somewhere between £800,000 and £2,500,000.

An interesting study has been carried out by Dr Ian Williams of Southampton University and Nick Deakin of Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council. They looked at the issue of abandoned shopping trolleys in the River Tawd at Skelmersdale. Interestingly, their conclusion was that the widely-used method of supermarket customers having to release a trolley by inserting a pound coin into a holder on the trolley and then reclaiming the coin when the trolley is returned to the trolley bay, was not that effective in preventing the dumping of trolleys. And there are depressingly predictable side-effects to this system – cases were reported of supermarket trolleys being deliberately vandalised (and then dumped) for the purpose of recovering the pound coin.

Their study concluded that by far the most effective method of safeguarding trolleys being practised in the various Skelmersdale supermarkets was the method adopted by one supermarket of attaching tall vertical bars to the trolley’s handle which prevented the trolley being wheeled out of the store. You may well be thinking that having to carry their shopping to their car would deter customers from using that particular supermarket, but that didn’t appear to be the case. In fact it seems that other supermarkets in Skelmersdale followed suit and fitted vertical bars to their trolleys.

Another variation on the theme was tried out by ASDA in Skelmersdale – a warning device was fitted to each trolley and the alarm set off by anyone who tried to wheel the trolley outside the supermarket’s car park (this reminds me of the collar that some people fit to their dogs which administers a mild electric shock if the dog attempts to stray beyond the garden boundary……).

Anyway, the good news is that the supermarkets are clearly applying some thought and effort to the question of reducing the removal and dumping of their trolleys. It may be, therefore, that supermarket trolleys’ iconic status is under threat – none of us, I feel sure, will regret that.

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