Arlington Considers Plastic Bag Tax at September Board Meeting

Published on September 08, 2021

The Arlington County Board will vote on adopting a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic shopping bags during its meeting on Saturday, Sept. 18. Members of the public will be able to make comments during the public hearing for this item. If adopted, this move would align with the County's environmental goals to reduce pollution and protect natural landscapes.

Last year, the Virginia General Assembly gave counties and cities the option of the 5-cent tax -- with revenues earmarked for local environmental education and cleanup.

Arlington's possible implementation is in line with similar efforts underway in neighboring Alexandria and Fairfax County. Enactment by all three jurisdictions would see a plastic bag tax taking effect across much of Northern Virginia in January 2022.

The tax gives shoppers an incentive to bring their own reusable totes rather than accept single-use disposable plastic that can wind up polluting local waterways or simply tossed in with trash destined for incinerators and landfills.

Retailers who collect the tax can keep a portion, $0.02 per bag for the next two calendar years, and then $0.01 per bag in subsequent years. Collection is overseen by the state Department of Taxation, which then distributes revenues for localities to administer.

The tax would apply only to plastic bags issued at grocery, convenience and drug store checkouts. A variety of task-specific bags like those used for holding ice cream, meat and seafood, vegetables and protecting dry cleaning are excluded from the environmental tax.

Bags that are products themselves also are exempt, like those used for lining trash cans and holding pet waste. Paper bags at checkout are also not subject to the proposed tax.

Arlington's curbside residential recycling program does not accept plastic bags and films because they can damage sorting equipment. Many large supermarkets do offer bag recycling drop-off bins.

Some retailers in Arlington and elsewhere have for years given shoppers a checkout discount for using their own shopping bags.

Should the tax be adopted, the County will embark on a fall education campaign to help residents understand the benefits including saving at the register with reusable bags and a cleaner community. The County also will develop strategies to help those who may be most burdened by this tax, aligning with the County's equity focus.

Arlington County is considered a national leader in sustainability efforts, ranging from its plan to become a carbon-neutral community by 2050 to its addition this month of residential curbside food scraps collection, diverting substantial organic waste from trash to create beneficial compost.

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The Board welcomes public comment at its monthly meetings and has an established procedure for participation.

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