Fairfax Co. considers 5-cent tax on plastic shopping bags

Fairfax County, Virginia, could soon level a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic shopping bags, but it wants to hear from residents first.

The tax, it says, is intended to limit the use of those ubiquitous bags, which pollute waterways and harm wildlife.

According to Clean Virginia Waterways, plastic shopping bags have been some of the most frequently found pieces of litter along waterways in the commonwealth.

“These bags also break down into harmful micro-particles that are ingested by both animals and people,” the county said in a statement Tuesday.

The proposal follows changes at the state level allowing such a tax. And if passed by the Board of Supervisors, it would take effect Jan. 1 and make Fairfax the second locality to approve one. (Roanoke was the first earlier this year.)

The county explains that the tax would be charged at the checkout for each plastic bag the retailer provides. The following disposable bags would be exempted from it:

  • Bags used to wrap meat, produce, ice cream, unwrapped bulk food or perishable food.
  • Bags used to carry dry cleaning or prescription drugs.
  • Bags sold for garbage, pet waste or yard waste.

Out of every 5 cents collected by the state per bag, retailers would keep 2 cents until Jan. 1, 2023, when that share would drop to 1 cent. The county’s share would go toward environmental cleanup; pollution mitigation; and waste-reduction education programs.

A public hearing on the proposed tax is set for Tuesday, Sept. 14, at 4:30 p.m. at the county’s Government Center. Residents who want to weigh in on the proposed plastic bag tax must sign up in person or by phone that day, or offer written or video testimony in advance. More information is available on the county’s website.

Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to WTOP.com when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer. In a previous life, he helped edit The Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune.

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