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  • Eggs

  • Flour 

  • Granulated sugar

  • The shopping cart was developed in 1936 by Sylvan Goldman and Fred Young, two aspiring Oklahoma City retailers. Two years prior to their development of the shopping cart, Goldman and Young purchased local grocery chains. On the forefront of many Americans’ minds at this time was food—specifically food of the cheap and filling variety. Advances at the turn of the decade in food transportation, preservation and refrigeration saw store shelves lined with canned goods. These canned foods cost less and were easier to store and prepare than anything else available to the consumer. While wildly popular, they were also heavy. Goldman and Young witnessed the struggle of many men and women attempting to fill a hand basket to the brim with heavy canned goods. Overnight, the two conceptualized the first shopping cart, revolutionizing the consumer market forever. A rollable shopping container, with a larger surface area than the handbasket, and wheels to push the cart around. Consumers would not only be able to purchase more goods in one shopping trip, but be more comfortable doing so.[1]

  • Baking soda

  • Vanilla extract (the $1 knockoff, not the $12 name brand)

  • Classified by The Scientific American, most shoppers fall into one of three classes when returning their cart. First listed is the “convenience returner.” Their cart will only be returned when they see a cart attendant nearby, or are in a close proximity to the cart racks. If these conditions aren’t met, effort to return the cart will not be exerted. In turn, the cart attendant must venture out into the parking lot to return the cart, essentially making the commitment that the convenience returner did not want to. Next is the “pressure returner.” The pressure returner will only return their cart if they are parked close to, or within eyeshot of others, or if the cart pusher is nearby. Pressure returners are more concerned with how others will perceive them than they are with the act of returning their cart. The final class of returners is “child-driven returners,” shoppers that only return their cart if they have a young child with them and can allow the kid to have fun returning the cart.[2]

  • Granola bars

  • AA batteries

  • Someone who makes the conscious decision to not return their cart may fall back to a set of three arguments in a hypothetical confrontation. A “cart discarder” may reason that they’re keeping the cart pushers in business, as the cart pushers would have no duties if everyone returned their cart in an orderly fashion. However, they may be overlooking the fact that cart pushers must push the carts that were returned into the store regardless, suggesting that leaving the cart haphazardly in the parking lot adds excessive steps to the cart pusher’s workload. A cart discarder may retort that they didn't see a cart rack nearby and therefore had nowhere to return the cart. However, every shopper knows that every parking lot contains a cart rack, and may also know that the racks are dispersed throughout the parking lot, meaning they could find one within walking distance. The final prominent argument from a cart discarder is that they are leaving the shopping cart out intentionally for the next shopper. Regardless of where the cart was positioned, the inheritor of the abandoned cart would still need to venture inside of the store. It would likely be a detour, since carts are always located at the entrance of the supermarket.[3]

  • Shopping cart theory roughly states that there is no punishment for not returning a cart. Almost no American supermarkets require a deposit to check out a cart. Nobody will fine you for not returning the cart, nor will you violate social norms. However, there is no reward in returning the cart. The cart pusher will not thank or compensate you; you return it because it is the right thing to do. Those who always return the cart, regardless of circumstance, are the most altruistic and pure-hearted shoppers. Returning the cart is a service to society, a thankless contribution to order.[4]

  • Shower liner

  • Rings for the shower liner (do NOT forget. Zip ties did not do the job last time)

  • Bathroom mat

  • Hand soap

  • Anti-bacterial Clorox wipes

  • The shopping cart test may be the truest test of character. It lies solely on the individual to determine their contribution to society. A functioning member returns the cart, a non-functioning member does not. A good Samaritan may abandon their cart while a deviant returns theirs, but their contribution to the small ecosystem of a supermarket will be felt by all.

  • However, some can’t return their cart out of circumstance.

  • Plastic silverware 

  • Plastic plates

  • Laundry detergent 

  • Michelina’s microwavable mac and cheese (4 for $5)

  • In Colorado, the fine for stealing or repurposing a shopping cart is up to $100.[5]

  • It is estimated that nearly two million shopping carts are stolen from supermarkets each year.[6]

  • Shopping carts are most typically repurposed by low-income shoppers needing transportation or a way to carry their groceries to their residence without a car.[7]

  • Bed sheets

  • Pillow covers

  • Water bottle

  • Backup water bottle for when I lose the first

  • People who steal shopping carts are burdened with fines, which only compounds the problem for low-income pilferers who have no other means with which to transport their belongings.[8]

  • The Denver Post wrote a 2018 expose piece detailing the positive correlation between abandoned shopping carts and increasing home prices.[9]

  • Wired headphones

  • Humidifier 

  • Toothbrush

  • Toothpaste

  • Color coded notebooks. Yellow is biology, red is math, blue is writing, black is psychology, green is political science

  • In 2013, the United States Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that said the city of Los Angeles could not confiscate or destroy property belonging to the homeless.[10]

  • Trash bags

  • Hand towels 

  • Paper towels 

  • Napkins

  • In 2018, the county of Lakewood, just south of Denver, attempted to pass a proposal that would allow retailers to retrieve their missing shopping carts, even if the shopping cart was recovered off-site. Lakewood confiscated an estimated 20 shopping carts per month in 2017. The county keeps a color-coded map of where shopping carts are most likely to be abandoned, and which to store they most likely belong.[11]

  • Later in 2018, the city of Lakewood inked a contract with a private shopping cart retrieval service. If a shopping cart is found outside of a retailer’s property, the shopping cart shall be presumed lost, stolen, or abandoned, removed from the premises where it was found, and returned to the rightful owner.[12]

  • Tube socks

  • Mechanical pencils 

  • Stapler

  • Staples

  • Owners of retail stores must provide written notice to customers that removing shopping carts from the premises is prohibited. All owners shall display and maintain conspicuous signs on the premises near all customer entrances and exits and throughout the premises, including the parking area, warning customers that shopping cart removal is prohibited by state and city law. [13]

  • Fruit snacks

  • Yogurt

  • Energy drinks

  • Solutions must reach beyond fines and punishments, which only exacerbate the hardships faced by low-income individuals. A shopping cart is more than just a vessel for groceries—it can become a means of survival.

  • Flamin’ Hot Cheetos

[1] Esparza David, “Grocery Cart History: Sylvan Goldman and Supermarket Origins,” Engage3, January 27, 2021,,change%20the%20retail%20world%20forever.

[2] D’Costa Krystal, “Why Don’t People Return Their Shopping Carts?” Scientific American Blog Network, Scientific American, April 26, 2017,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cox Mike, “The Shopping Cart Theory,” The Colombia Star, July 14, 2022,,the%20goodness%20of%20that%20person.

[5] “Ch. 8.90 Abandoned Shopping Carts,” Lakewood Municipal Code, City of Lakewood, March 5, 2020,

[6] Rylah Julia Bennett, “Where are the missing shopping carts?”, The Hustle, January 23, 2023,,up%20to%20~%24250%20each.

[7] Eidse Joy, “Youth Voices: Poverty and the Alternative Uses of Shopping Carts,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, January 27, 2010,

[8] Ibid. 

[9] Aguilar, John, “The unlikely link between the Front Range’s abandoned shopping carts and rising home prices,” The Denver Post, April 11, 2018,

[10] Blankstein Andrew, and Alexandra Zavis, “L.A. to Ask High Court to Overturn Ruling on Homeless Belongings,” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2013,

[11] Aguilar John, “The unlikely link between the Front Range’s abandoned shopping carts and rising home prices,” The Denver Post, April 11, 2018,

[12] “Ch. 8.90 Abandoned Shopping Carts,” Lakewood Municipal Code, City of Lakewood, March 5, 2020,

[13] Ibid. 

JORDAN EGELMAN is a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, studying Psychology and Sociology. Jordan pursues his academic interests by conducting laboratory research. Outside of school, Jordan enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with friends and family, and being active.


WILLY CONLEY is a photographer and writer with work featured in books Photographic Memories, Plays of Our Own, The World of White Water, Listening Through the Bone, The Deaf Heart, No Walls of Stone, Visual-Gestural Communication, and Deaf World. He is a former professor of theatre arts at Gallaudet University in D.C.

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