Australian shopping trolley dilemma: Carrot and Stick strategies for recovery of the ones that go missing

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 6th January 2012

The exponential increase in the number of shopping trolleys (or shopping carts, as Americans prefer to call them) that litter Australian streets has forced the supermarket operators to find new recovery strategies.

In addition to being eyesores, especially when dumped in enviro-sensitive areas such as alongside streams or in nearby recreational bushland spaces, governments consider these trolleys as a hazard to pedestrians and traffic.  In some Australian jurisdictions, laws have been passed to make retailers or customers more responsible for allowing trolleys to remain abandoned.

 The ‘Stick approach’

The Ashfield Council in New South Wales has a bylaw that allows a municipal officer to impose an on-the-spot fine for abandoning a trolley in the street. Abandoning a shopping trolley near your carparking space is not a lawful defence; it is your duty to ensure that shopping trolley is not left abandoned in a public place and offenders can be issued with a $110 on the spot fine.

In August 2010, a law was passed to give the Australian Capital Territory government (for Canberra and other ACT areas) the power to notify retailers that it will undertake a ‘trolley collection day’ in a particular area; if the government then finds any trolleys in this area, it may fine the responsible retailers. The city rangers (officers)  also have the power to tell retailers to collect particular trolleys within 24 hours, or face a fine.

The ACT legislation  took effect in March 2011 but  businesses and residents were given a transitional adjustment period. Recently, the ACT government reminded people that infringements would be more actively pursued from the Christmas New Year period so that more fines are to be expected in January 2012 and onwards.

Under the  ACT legislation:

  • retailers must collect abandoned trolleys within 24 hours of being notified or pay an impounding cost of about $190
  • larger retailers can be fined for failing to keep trolleys near their shops but  exemptions exist for smaller businesses and those that take steps to keep trolleys on-site
  • People who ignore a city ranger’s direction to return a shopping trolley they have taken from a shop can face a $60 on-the-spot fine.

The ‘Carrot approach’

In the past year, Woolworths supermarket stores took action to introduce an additional incentive or encouragement for the return of missing shopping trolleys.

Woolworths, Safeway and Big W stores have around 300,000 shopping trolleys in over 900 stores around Australia. Hundreds of contractors and staff are engaged to ensure trolleys are available for customers. The cost of collecting, maintaining and replacing trolleys each year is over $50 million. Approximately 5% of all trolleys are replaced each year either because they go missing, are stolen or damaged beyond repair. The average trolley costs $150 to replace, while trolleys with special features (such as child seats) can cost up to $600.

Woolworths introduced both its free Trolley Tracker hotline on 1800 641 497 and website, through which abandoned trolleys’ locations are able to be reported. The incentive is that of an entry into a draw for a cash prize. Every “wayward” trolley reported enters the applicant into a monthly draw that awards 5 entrants $1000 in each individual state. The constraints of the competition (as outlined  in its registered terms and conditions online) are that the trolley must be beyond the boundaries of the supermarket and car park and that the entrant must give their name, telephone number or email address.


Another initiative was introduced by Woolworths’ Trolley Tracker in May 2011 that rewards entrants who identify the whereabouts of missing trolleys via the application, Trolley Tracker, which can be downloaded for free onto smartphones.

Similarly, Coles has established a hotline 1800 TROLLEY (1800 876553) and an email address,, through which members of the public can alert the supermarket about ‘lost’ trolleys. Coles is continually working to develop new technology to limit the number of trolleys that are abandoned by shoppers.

Redesigning Shopping Trolleys

Shopping trolleys have a number of other hazards. Way back in 2006,  it was reported by Monash University Accident Research Centre that there were about 400 visits to accident and emergency departments a year in Australia involving kids with trolley injuries – mostly falls –  and this figure was roughly double what it was five years earlier. Supermarkets have had to spend considerably more money in recent years for better and safer designs of shopping trolleys to reduce their potential legal exposure liabilities for the danger of their trolleys.