The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on a new proposed tax on disposable plastic bags.

The idea is based on legislation that was adopted by the Virginia General Assembly in 2020. This legislation would allow cities and counties in the Commonwealth to impose an ordinance that would place a 5-cent tax on the use of disposable plastic bags.

The goal of this ordinance, according to county officials, is to the benefit of the local environment, particularly waterways nearby that are impacted by litter. According to a 2019 report by Clean Virginia Waterways, disposable plastic bags were the number one type of litter found along Fairfax County’s coastlines.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity shares the concerns of his fellow supervisors but suggests a different method rather than the imposition of such a tax.

“Our overarching problem is not plastic bags, it is litter, which is why I have proposed alternative solutions to solve the problem of litter while my colleagues have pursued a plastic bag tax,” said Herrity. “Similar to the purple bin glass recycling program, I have proposed that the county collect and recycle plastic bags because they are highly recyclable and there is already a market for them. County staff are now working on a program.”

According to state law, the proposed tax would apply to single-use plastic bag that are offered at grocery stores, convenience stores, and drug stores and would be charged for every bag provided at checkout. The law would exempt some types of single-use bags such as those used for raw meats, produce, and dairy, bags used to carry dry cleaning and prescription drugs, and those used for garbage and pet waste. Reusable shopping and grocery bags that have handles that are four millimeters thick would also be exempt from this tax.

“Numerous residents have emailed my office that they are opposed to this tax, which is coming while they’re still dealing with the impact of the pandemic, rising food costs, inflation and a 45 percent increase in their taxes over the last decade. But the reality is that most residents are not aware this is being considered because they are understandably focused on pressing personal and family issues resulting from the pandemic,” said Herrity of the public response thus far.

The revenue collected from this tax would be split between retailers and the county, the retailers would keep 2 cents for every bag until January 2023 when that split would shrink to 1 cent. Meanwhile, Fairfax County would be obligated by state law to use the collected revenue for specific programs such as environmental cleanup, pollution and litter mitigation, education programs on environmental waste reduction, or providing reusable bags for programs such as SNAP and WIC.

The public hearing is scheduled for September 14 at 4:30 pm at the Fairfax County Government Center. Should the tax be passed, it wouldn’t go into effect until January 1, 2022.

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