Fairfax Co. approves 5 cent tax on disposable plastic bags

A 5-cent tax on disposable plastic shopping bags in Fairfax County, Virginia, was adopted during a public hearing on Tuesday.

The tax approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is intended to limit the use of single-use plastic bags. According to Clean Virginia Waterways, plastic shopping bags have been some of the most frequently found pieces of litter along waterways in the commonwealth.

The five-cent tax will go into effect on Jan. 1.

“Plastic bags are one of the most common items found during community cleanups of our parks, streams, and lakes,” said Supervisor James Walkinshaw. “They damage aquatic ecosystems and the micro-particles of plastics created when they break down make their way into our water sources.”

The tax follows changes at the state level allowing it. Fairfax is now the second locality to approve such a tax (Roanoke was the first earlier this year and Alexandria is considering a tax).

“Plastic bag taxes are proven in jurisdictions across the nation,” Walkinshaw said. “This measure will reduce plastic pollution and the modest funds collected will be reinvested into litter prevention and to providing reusable bags for low-income community members.”

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.

In Arlington, the Arlington County Board will vote on a 5-cent plastic bag tax at its meeting on Saturday, Sept. 18.

WTOP’s Jack Pointer contributed to this report.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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