City leaders: shopping carts around city are ugly, cause flooding

Houston has a shopping cart crisis, according to city councilman Mike Laster.

The shopping carts, that cost roughly $300 each, end up away from stores, abandoned, and wind up in all the wrong places -- including in the city's ditches and streams, where they cause flooding due to debris getting caught against them.

Last month, city leaders nixed a plan that would've come up with a permanent plan to deal with the carts. We wanted to know who was pitching in, and who was letting taxpayers pick up the tab.

Out on city streets, one retired city employee is back on the job - tasked with cleaning up those carts.

"They'll be at the bus stops, on the sidewalk, sometimes they're in the middle of the street," said Barnett Small.

His job, five days a week, is to spot and corral shopping carts, put them on a truck, then take them to a city storage yard. In the two city council districts where he works, he's collected thousands of wayward shopping carts.

Laster says it's more than a nuisance.

"We've had one location where we pulled out over 30 carts that had been causing a dam-like scenario in the neighborhood and flooding in the neighborhood," Laster said.

Houston grocery stores were willing to talk about the problem, but Laster got little success when he tried to get retailers to actually participate in the collection program.

Stores like Fiesta and Sellers Brothers have their own cart collections. The councilman says Fiesta collects 100 of its own carts daily. H-E-B told us it installs cart-locking mechanisms that are supposed to stop carts from leaving the parking lot and requires each store to hire someone to collect carts for them.

City records show one out of every five carts collected is from Walmart, more than any other retailer. Walmart says it has a program to collect carts and has lock mechanism to keep them from leaving the parking lots. It's unclear how well they work and when we asked if we could go along on the collection, Walmart said no.

Like other retailers, Walmart is happy to collect the carts you pay the city to pick up.

Right now, Walmart and other stores pay nothing for the city service. Those stores told Laster they weren't interested in paying the city back for the carts collected for them.

"This is just some," Small said, pointing to a pile of carts in the city yard. "You missed out. Walmart just picked up 150."

It's not a surprise the carts are picked up, given the price for each cart.

"They want them back," Laster said. "They don't want to pick them up or they don't want to help us pick them up and they don't want to pay us to help them pick it up."

Laster's plan to pay to expand the program died in this year's budget process.

He says he plans to keep the pressure on to expand cooperation among stores or explore fines, fees or rules forcing stores to pick up their own property.

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