Betty Scutt pushes her shopping cart through a ragged parking lot of the Walmart on Richmond Highway in Hybla Valley.
“Sometimes they are good, and sometimes they are bad, you know,” says Scutt. “You get a bad wheel or something. But what are you going to do? That's the way it goes.”
Volunteers that have organized county cleanups say many of the carts from the Hybla Valley Walmart end up in Little Hunting Creek, which some have dubbed “the Trashiest Creek in Fairfax County.” Several years ago, Fairfax County paid $65,000 to clean it up, although it didn’t take long for it to become clogged with garbage again. Assorted trash includes beer cans, syringes, Frisbees, bowling balls and carts from other nearby big-box stores. But regular participants of the creek cleanups say one kind of cart dominates the landscape of garbage.
“Ninety percent is Walmart's grocery carts,” says Robert O’Hanlon, a regular volunteer. “And then everything else is like 1 percent.”
THIS YEAR IN RICHMOND, Del. Scott Surovell (D-45) introduced a bill he hoped would force Walmart to take action. The effort, House Bill 2011, would have given Fairfax County authority to go after owners of “dilapidated furniture, appliance, machinery, equipment, shopping cart, building material” that is “rusted, wrecked, junked, dismantled or inoperative.” Virginia Beach has had this kind of authority since 2004. Owners of the abandoned property would have had seven days to remove it.
“This creek has become a dumping ground,” Surovell told members of the General Assembly earlier this month. “What they are doing is shifting their trash problem onto the Fairfax County taxpayer.”
The bill was considered in the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns, which referred the bill to a subcommittee. Del. Bob Marshall (R-13) suggested a 21-day period rather than a seven-day period. He also had a suggestion that notices of violation should come from the county government rather than a private individual. A majority of the panel members voted to reject the bill.
“In essence, this is creating a criminal statute for any person to place anything that is not in 100 percent operating condition on any property,” said Del. Rick Morris (R-64).
THE IDEA OF WALMART installing wheel locks on its carts is popular in the parking lot of the Hybla Valley location. The newer Walmart at Kings Crossing already has the system in place. When asked about the wheel locks one recent morning, several customers said they would like to see the big-box retailer install the technology on the carts here so they don’t end up in Little Hunting Creek.
“That way, they won’t be all over the place or in people’s yards or in the creek,” said Judy Shaffier, who lives nearby in Hybla Valley.
A spokeswoman for Walmart said the retailer recently hosted an associate volunteer cleanup day at the park to pick up litter and abandoned shopping carts. She said the big-box chain is looking at installing wheel locks on its carts, but she could not say when the technology would be installed.
“As part of our continued efforts to do our part to keep to help keep this park clean for everyone to enjoy, we plan to be reaching out to some of the local businesses to help participate in future cleanup efforts,” said Walmart spokeswoman Kayla Whaling. “We are aware that our shopping carts have been found off of our property and, as a result, we have taken steps to help alleviate the issue for our customers and members of the community, which include increasing the frequency of picking up carts on a weekly basis.