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Why Don’t People Return Their Shopping Carts?

I was walking through a parking lot the other day and I saw at least 8 shopping carts that the previous user did not return to the store or cart return area. This is something that has been bothering me for weeks – why do people think it’s ok to not return their carts? I think when you use a cart, you have a responsibility to use it properly and return it when you’re done.

Cart by Rick Hall, Undeniable Ruth

Cart by Rick Hall

I posted a question about it on Facebook  and I was shocked when the first 4 commenters admitted that they regularly don’t return their carts. These were their excuses in a nutshell:

  1. I have my kids with me.
  2. I physically can’t walk that far.
  3. By leaving my cart out, I’m keeping a clerk/cart attendant employed.
  4.  If the cart return is more than a few spaces away, I’m not going to use it.

I don’t buy any of those excuses.

  1. Take your kids with you to return your cart or lock them in the car for the 1-2 minutes it takes you to return the cart. If the kid is old enough, make the kid return it for you.
  2. The store will assign a clerk to assist you to your car, load your groceries, and take your cart back for you upon request.
  3. Bullshit – The store will still employ a clerk to collect the carts from cart returns.
  4. Are you fucking kidding me?

My mother had me 21 months after giving birth to twins. I called her and she said she always returns her cart. If she can shop with 3 babies and not leave a cart in the middle of the parking lot, you would be hard pressed to find a valid reason (besides an extreme emergency) for not returning your cart.

This problem and all the comments on my Facebook page about this issue made me wonder what’s the underlying issue here. Is it laziness? Entitlement? Selfishness? Thoughtlessness?

How would you feel if your car was dented by a rogue shopping cart that was blown into your car by a strong gust of wind?

How would you feel if the teenage clerk got hit by a car while retrieving the cart you failed to put away?

Shopping carts are expensive. When they’re damaged they need to be replaced. Stores pass that cost along to you. Don’t bitch about the cost of groceries if you’re part of the problem.

My obvious reaction to this problem is to scream “Put your fucking cart away!” but I think the bigger challenge is to address the pervasive underlying problem and ask how do we create a community where people think beyond the immediate moment and consider the greater good for themselves and others?


  1. A Non says:

    You left out people who pick up a cart in the parking lot to take in the store, so feel entitled to leave it in the parking lot when they’re done.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      I saw one such person this morning. She had a handicap license plate. She parked in one handicap spot and took the cart that had been abandoned in the middle of the adjacent handicap parking space and walked into the store.

  2. Bubba says:

    I don’t know how weird this makes me, but I tend to survey the difference in number of carts put away between stores. The overwhelming winner that I have found is Walmart. It must be that you’re a relative outcast if you put your cart away; in the middle of the night there are carts almost everywhere in their parking lot…except the cart corrals.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      That’s sad…but not surprising.

  3. damgenius says:

    Part of the service I pay for at the store includes the refrigeration of the food, lighting the store, providing a cart for me to use, and providing a parking lot for me to park in. I pay for the store’s service from the moment I enter their lot until the moment I leave it. If I want to leave my cart out there in the lot, I paid for that privilege. I didn’t just buy food. I bought an experience. That said, I usually hook the front wheels over a curb so it doesn’t go smash into someone’s car if the wind blows.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Some people share your belief. I disagree with it. Cart returns exist so you know where to leave your cart when you’re done shopping so you don’t have to take it all the way back into the store.

      I’ve heard you have to pay a deposit to use a cart in some countries and that you get your money back when you put your cart back in the cart return. That sounds like a plausible solution to this problem – I think a lot of people will return their cart to get their money back, but there will still be some who will pay $1 to leave their cart wherever they feel like it.

    2. Victor V says:

      So, damgenius, you just expect people to clean up after you where ever you?

      1. Ruth Carter says:

        One of my friends suggested that people who don’t put their carts away were the kids who never had to clean their rooms because their moms did it for them.

      2. damgenius says:

        I don’t expect people to clean up after me wherever I go, no. Just when I go to places that offer a service. I don’t offer to wash my own dishes in a restaurant, because that’s part of the service. A grocery store offers carts and parking, so I use those. I see the Cart Corrals as a request, but do not feel I am being inconsiderate toward the company which I just paid to purchase my groceries. As stated, I do have the courtesy to assure my cart will not damage another person’s property, but beyond that it is the store’s job to keep track of their carts, not mine.

        1. James says:

          As a person who works in a store and is often told on the hottest days and coldest winters to go retrieve carts. Is it really that much to expect a human to have a little common decency. To not make someone’s job harder of they can help it. I understand to you it’s about experience but whatever happened to helping out your fellow man.

          1. Ruth Carter says:

            Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hope it makes it harder for people to leave their carts out when they know they are having a negative impact on real people.

        2. MrMufasa says:

          You are lazy, entitled, narcissistic, sociopathic–a drain on society. What else can we all do to help YOU out? I, I, I…me, me, me. Why the hell do you think the cart returns are there??? Did you ever take a moment out of your solipsistic life to consider that? Pathetic. I’m sick of cleaning up after primitives like you.

    3. Tyler Hurst says:

      Do you also not clear your table at Ikea or fast-food places?

      1. Ruth Carter says:

        I wondered that too.

    4. JG says:

      You’re a selfish person, sorry, but that’s the truth. You don’t think about anyone but yourself. You leave your cart in an empty space that someone wants to park in, and they can’t because of your selfishness. A cart left loose by you rolls into a car and damages it. It isn’t about you paying the bill, it’s about being considerate of others, about taking responsibility and being an adult, not a child with body hair. Grow up.

      1. Ruth Carter says:

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts JG!

  4. Victor V says:

    I think that not returning shopping carts says a lot about a person’s character:

    – Lack of personal responsibility
    – Inconsiderate
    – Lazy

    1. cj says:

      You’re right on, yesterday I was returning to my car after shopping and this old fart and his redneck daughter just let their basket go in the parking lot and barely missed hitting my car. In retrospect, I should of kept my mouth shut and walked on, bc you can’t reason with a crazy person.
      I told them that they really needed to be more careful with their basket it almost hit my car. They started calling me horrible names and was sort of scared. So, I want to and to your list, redneck and crazy!
      The funny thing about was they were driving a brand new dodge charger? Maybe karma will repay them the favor.

      1. Ruth Carter says:

        You can’t fix dumb. I recently saw an older woman pushing a shopping cart across the lot after she was done loading her car. I was about to offer to push it back to the cart return for her since it was on my way to where I was going, and then she pushed her cart into an empty space and left it. No favors for her.

  5. jlines says:

    I was 27 before I met someone who cared about this. I was shocked to learn that anyone was passionate about this issue. I mean I use the return station, but I remember a time before the cart station when leaving the cart in the lot was the norm. Obviously this is the case or there would never have been any need for cart stations to begin with. And they weren’t even put in to help out the cart collectors, it was just so peoples cars would stop getting all fucked up by rogue carts. To the cart people, every one has shit jobs.

    My first job was at a rural gas station near cleveland oh. This old guy walks in and gets the men’s room key 10 mins before closing. Spent 35 mins in there while I’m waiting around. Once he left I discovered a shitsplosion scenario in the bathroom. I had to assist with cleanup the next day.

    Everyone has shitty jobs at some point, deal with it.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I know of stores that don’t have a cart return, and the courteous thing to do is to take your cart back to the store. I think it’s disrespectful and dangerous to leave carts all over the lot. Even if it’s the norm of the community, it still shouldn’t be tolerated.

      When you worked at the gas station, part of your job was to keep the bathroom clean. That didn’t give that patron permission to have a shitsplosion all over it. The patron had permission to use it during business hours.

      1. Joe says:

        I used to be a lot guy at the home depot. Being a lot person is the most miserable job ever. You pick 5 carts and ten are coming out. Even lot people are getting paid, it feels likebejng a slave. Not for the employer itself, but for the greedy consume. I believe that returning a cart to its designated area will show gratitude to a business who offer you a service. Lot guys deserve consideration. Its easier to pick carts from their designated area, rather than one cart in North and another one further in south. I had a leg distance digital device. And because of selfish people i used to walk like 3 miles a day. Around a small area just picking the carts they leave all over. I wish if they could taste how it is to clean carts after them

        1. Ruth Carter says:

          Thanks for sharing the perspective from someone who had to deal with the consequences of these people’s actions.

        2. txJM says:

          Seriously? “Most miserable job ever”? Cart pushing is CAKE.

          The only thing worse than someone who is too lazy to return a cart is someone too lazy to return a cart while being paid to do so.

          I always return my carts, and if I see any nearby that are in a precarious place I stack ’em up and return them, too. But there’s no way you can tell me that a cart pusher DESERVES that courtesy from me.

          1. Ruth Carter says:

            Thanks for sharing your perspective and always returning your cart! I think cart pushers deserve as much respect as anyone else.

  6. fat n lazy says:

    do what others wont so you can live like others cant. if you apply this statement to the little things like returning a cart, you’ll probably apply it to other and more significant areas of your life.

    people are lazy, no doubt about it. and a lot of people dont even think twice about such a minuscule detail. its about being conscious of yourself and your surroundings.

    the other thing is that people look at what everyone else is doing. if there are 20 carts left in the lot, then people think its ok. if there arent any, nobody wants to be that person who leaves it behind.

    interesting observation.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      That would be an interesting experiment to see if people would put their carts away if no other carts were left out in the lot.

  7. Stephanie says:

    Aldi stores carts are hooked together and can only be released by inserting a quarter. In order to get your quarter back you have to return the cart. This saves the store money by not having cart pushers and the parking lot is clean.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      That’s awesome. I think that’s a great way to address the problem.

  8. Chad says:

    I find it a bit ridiculous that people get annoyed by this.

    I’ve had my car hit by a stray cart, when I was younger I used to be employed to go outside in sunshine, rain, sleet, snow to go get carts, and from time to time, I’ll go the extreme extra mile to go return a cart, maybe even a couple others next to me. So I do have a little perspective, however there are a few reasons you should relax though.

    1. The store can switch to a quarter insert cart system if they don’t wish to use their employees to get carts. They do exist, they work well, in the end they save the stores money.

    2. Any job where you have to go retrieve carts, getting the carts is probably the fun part of your job. When I did this, I was just glad to have a break and get outside for a while.

    3. It does keep people employed, some bigger stores it’s a full time job. It’s not a glorious job, but it’s not a bad job either.

    4. If it’s a windy day and you are worried about carts hitting your car, you are more likely to get door-ed by the idiot parking next to you. Try parking a little further from the entrance or upwind. Just realize it’s a big world out there and whether it’s a stone in your wind-shield or a flat tire or whatever, sometimes shit just happens.

    Most of the time I take my cart back and maybe even a couple others if they are close by. Sometimes if I’m in a hurry I’ll hook my cart over a curb or something so it won’t roll and I’ll drive away without feeling at all guilty.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences Chad!

    2. MrMufasa says:

      Take your damn cart back. If you have time to go to the store and screw around with hooking a wheel to a curb (whatever the hell that means), you’re in a hurry in your own mind. And for god’s sake, how long… long does it take to walk a few yards and back? TAKE…YOUR…CART…BACK! Since you’re obviously too obtuse to figure out why anyone would be annoyed by this, let me make it crystal clear: I have had carts behind my car, up against my car, blocking spaces that I and others want to use. Don’t inconvenience me because of your own laziness and ostensive time mismanagement. God you people, and all of the little excuses you’ve invented in your smallish minds, really, really irk me. I repeat: TAKE YOUR CART BACK!

      1. Ruth Carter says:

        I’m with you. It only takes a minute to return a cart.

  9. Lorin Thwaits says:

    Gives me hope to hear that folks care about this. Observing store etiquette generally, it doesn’t seem important to society, and that to me is discouraging.

    When I take my kids to any cart-based establishment we have a game as we arrive — each person grab a cart and wheel it back up to the store. That’s four carts going back in. And a quick competition follows to see who got the best-rolling cart. There’s a much higher chance of getting a good cart if you have four to pick from and they’ve already been tested a little!

    When the money is paid and we’re on our way everyone pitches in to carry a bag or two, leaving the cart back at the front of the store.

    I think teaching children little things like that will help them to never take people’s work for granted.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks for sharing Lorin! I think that’s a great game and a wonderful way to instill a sense of responsibility and courtesy in your kids.

  10. Tyler Hurst says:

    My siblings and I would always fight over who would be able to return the cart.

    Make it game, like my mom did. Kids are dumb, and then they’ll never forget to return the cart as adults.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Your mother is wise.

  11. Erin Noele says:

    I can’t believe people don’t return their carts. Lazy, rude and inconsiderate. As for leaving the cart wherever you please being part of the service you pay for when you shop at a store? Give me a break. People who believe things like this are the problem with our society.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      I completely agree with you.

  12. mike says:

    It is unbelievably bad in Tucson Arizona. The illegals steal them then decide they don’t need them and leave them everywhere. I try returning them to walmart mostly where they come from and it is a losing battle. Every day there are more and more carts left at bus stops as if they wanted to take the cart on the bus with them. Such a shame that people are that way and have to prove stereotypes right

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Good for you for trying to be the solution.

  13. Craig Cordova says:

    I can’t believe how INCONSIDERATE AND LAZY people have become in regards to putting carts away. Tonight at Costco I saw a cart that rolled into the back of someones car. As I was getting out of my truck (which also recently go scratch from a cart) the people walked up to this car and saw it got scratched and were shaking their heads in disgust. WHAT do they do?!?!? Put the friken cart in the stall next to them where it can roll into someone car! REALLY!!! WHAT HELL IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE! We have cell phones to make calls and any moment we please internet to look at anything we want ANYTIME which is supposed to make our lives easier and give us more time, BUT we don’t give a CRAP if a damn Shopping Cart will damage someones vehicle. Mike Judge isn’t far off in his move Idiocracy and to where we are headed as a society. PLEASE LIKE THIS IF YOU ALWAYS PUT YOUR CART AWAY IN THE PLACE PROVIDED, YOU KNOW, OLD SCHOOL COURTESY TO OUR FELLOW HUMANS!!!

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      I completely agree!

  14. bunny66 says:

    So my sister & I were unloading the cart at the local Target in Kyle, TX today when some dude in a 325i BMW stalked us and waited for us to load our vehicle with out purchases. My sister and I were having a conversation about which one of us was going to return the cart when this random fellow shouted out to us from 2 rows down whether we were going to return the cart. Well, this considering that fellow was so concerned about the cart, we waved to him and he proceeded to call us trashy. At that point, we feared for our lives and figured that he was more likely than not to bring us harm as he parked in front of the cart return. He definitely had a hard on for either the cart or for us! Which was really creepy. I thought he was admiring my 528i BMW but I guess all he really wanted was the cart.. So I left it there for him!

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Eww! What a creepy and cruel thing for this guy to do.