Can linked shopping carts be the missing link in preventing them from gone astray?

The Dutch are known for being frugal. Common amongst their European neighbors is the joke: “who invented copper wire? The Dutch, when two of them were fighting over a penny”.piggy-bank-621068

At the other side the Americans are known for being indolent, somewhat lazy.

Being Dutch and living in the US I can say that I have known some real frugal Dutch people and some real lazy Americans. I also know some big spenders among my Dutch friends and family, and very generous people who would eat a sandwich one night so they can take their friend out for dinner the other night. And I know real hard working Americans, doing things for others, volunteering for their community on top of a fulltime job.

When it comes to one big pet peeve of mine though,  I wonder if the Americans are frugal enough to move past their laziness and adapt a Dutch system:

Shopping carts.

Really, how difficult is it to return your shopping cart to the (multiple) designated area(s) after you used it for your groceries? At most American supermarkets, there is such a designated area within 10 steps from your car. TEN steps!

Yet, the parking lot of an American supermarket, or any other convenience store is littered with shopping carts. Used by people, customers, provided as a courtesy to them by the store, yet why bother returning this cart to where it belongs?

When we, the customers, treat these shopping carts as our own rather than the property of the store, provided to us to make our shopping easier, we won’t take any  responsibility. Which is strange to me: when your neighbor loans you a cup of sugar, you don’t walk out of her house, using the sugar and throw away her cup carelessly, do you? You are grateful she had sugar when you were baking cookies, so you return her cup, together with a stack of freshly baked cookies to her house. So why are Americans so careless when it comes to shopping carts?

Yesterday I read in the paper that Bangor officials are trying to tackle this ‘problem’. They have researched what other towns are doing and I was shocked to learn that in some cases the supermarkets are held responsible for the stray shopping carts! That seems unfair to me: they are providing their customers a service, the customers abused this service and the store needs to pay for that.

I invite the Bangor city counselors to look into the Dutch system.

In the Netherlands they have a system since 1985 (source Wikepedia) in which the shopping carts are chained together near the entrance of the store. In order to use a cart, you have to put a coin in the slot; this will unchain the cart and after use, you click it back into place and you will get your coin back. I believe it is a fifty-euro cent coin, most people have a few of these standard in their car, coat pocket or even on specially designed key ring (we’re talking about the Dutch here: masters of design!).

Of course there isn’t a Dutch person who would not return the shopping cart to the designated area: that 50 cent coin needs to come back!


I have often wondered if that 50 cent incentive would be enough here in the US. Would it be enough to have people take those ten steps to return their shopping carts? Bangor City Councils: I challenge you to look into this and perhaps Bangor can be the trendsetter city for the entire US!


Edith Schriever

About Edith Schriever

I am a Maine-igrant from the Netherlands. While my scientist husband fell in love with the beautiful research institute here, I fell in love with Mount Desert Island. Mountains, ocean, wild life, peace and quiet! A culture change? Yes, a bit. Americans are not at all like the Jerry Springer audience I saw on TV when living in the Netherlands, well, at least not everyone. Portions are big and toilets small and low; I have learned to embrace the cultural differences.