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The forlorn shopping cart: Borrowed, perhaps, by someone who is carless and has to lug home a week's worth of groceries, or haul dirty clothes to the Laundromat. In college, I once purloined a cart (from a Hook's drug store, if I remember correctly) to transport my few essentials—clothing, a turntable and some records—from the dorm to a summer apartment about two miles away.

Its purpose served, the cart is then ditched at the bus stop, on the street corner or in the ravine. They don't biodegrade, and when not merrily wheeling down an aisle, they are damn ugly.

So last fall, the Raleigh City Council approved a program to retrieve abandoned carts and reunite them with their original owners. Retailers must place a placard on the cart with their name, address and phone number. The city's Solid Waste Services Department has collected approximately 175 shopping carts and returned most of them.

A few badly damaged carts or those missing a placard wind up at the Yard Waste Center, where a local company retrieves them for recycling.

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