Down with Plastic Bags

Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, and Fairfax County are simultaneously taking steps to reduce the negative environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags by adopting local plastic bag tax ordinances in each jurisdiction.

The Alexandria City Council and Arlington County Board adopted their ordinances during public hearings held Saturday, Sept. 18, which followed Fairfax County’s adoption of their ordinance on Tuesday, Sept. 14. The plastic bag tax ordinance authorizes the jurisdictions to impose a five-cent ($0.05) tax for each disposable plastic bag from grocery, convenience and drugstores.

“A decrease in plastic bags will lessen our environmental impact and improve quality of life for our Eco-City by reducing the plastic bags littering our roads and local waterways,” said City of Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. “This action, coupled with continuing outreach and education that empowers our residents as active partners in these efforts, is one of the many important steps Alexandria and our neighboring jurisdictions are taking toward achieving environmental sustainability.” 

The effective tax date would be Jan. 1, 2022, for all three jurisdictions. The City of Alexandria, Arlington County and Fairfax County have been working closely with the Northern Virginia Regional Waste Management Board to align outreach, education, timelines and common language for the localities to ensure consistency and clarity.

“Arlington is proud to take this step to reduce plastic bag waste in our community and to do so with our regional partners,” said Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti. “We have long sought the legal authority for this small fee as a way to protect our environment and become a more sustainable community. We look forward to working with residents and neighbors on implementation.”

In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly adopted Virginia Code 58.1-1745, which authorizes any county or city in Virginia to impose a tax of five cents per bag on disposable plastic bags provided to customers by convenience stores, drugstores, and grocery stores. The Virginia Department of Tax Administration published final Guidelines for the Virginia Disposable Plastic Bag Tax on Sept. 1, 2021. https://www.tax.virginia.gov/guidelines-virginia-disposable-plastic-bag-tax

The tax would not apply to plastic bags intended for reuse; plastic bags solely used to wrap, contain or package certain items (ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, produce, unwrapped bulk food items or perishable food items); plastic bags for dry cleaning or prescription drugs; or multiple plastic bags sold in packages for garbage, pet waste or leaf removal.

“Working collaboratively with Arlington and Alexandria to address the issue of plastic pollution makes perfect sense,” said Jeff McKay, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “Environmental issues like pollution and water quality don’t respect political or geographic boundaries, they are shared concerns that affect all of us equally. I hope not a single person will need to pay this tax as it is completely avoidable. I congratulate my peers in both Arlington and Alexandria on the adoption of their plastic bag tax ordinances. We look forward to working together to reduce pollution locally and to improve our natural environment in the years to come.”

Until Jan. 1, 2023, for the first year in effect, retailers will be able to retain two cents for every five cents collected on each plastic bag. After Jan. 1, 2023, the amount will decrease to one cent.  

Collected taxes may be used for environmental cleanup; providing educational programs designed to reduce environmental waste, mitigating pollution and litter; or for providing reusable bags to recipients of either Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) benefits

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