Alexandria and Arlington County to decide on 5-cent tax on disposable plastic bags

Both Arlington County and the city of Alexandria in Virginia are moving toward a 5-cent local tax on the use of disposable plastic bags provided by grocery, convenience and drugstores.

The Arlington County Board will vote on the measure Saturday, while the Alexandria City Council holds its first public hearing on the ordinance the same day.

If passed, both the Arlington County and Alexandria tax will go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.


Watch live as the Arlington County Board is scheduled to vote around 9 a.m. Saturday


According to the environmental organization EarthDay, about one trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually (over two million per-minute). Most of its waste, over 100 million tons, ends up stagnant in landfills or the ocean.

The proposed tax, which was authorized by the Virginia State Assembly last year, is a part of state and nationwide initiatives to reduce litter and fund environmental programs.

The revenues raised by this tax, in both localities, will be used to fund:

  • Environmental cleanup;
  • Education programs to reduce wasteful practices;
  • Litter and pollution mitigation;
  • Providing reusable bags for recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) benefits — as well as other low-income individuals.

The ordinances in both Arlington County and Alexandria will compensate retailers for the cost of collecting and remitting this tax. For the first year, stores will be able to keep two cents out of every five cents collected on each disposable plastic bag. After the first year, this amount will decrease to one cent.

This past Tuesday, neighboring Fairfax County adopted their own 5-cent bag tax. If passed in both Arlington and Alexandria, that would mean most of Northern Virginia is taking part in the state’s environmental funding measure.

According to Virginia state law, the 5-cent tax will not apply to:

  • Durable plastic bags, with handles, that are specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and that are at least four millimeters thick;
  • Plastic bags that are solely used to wrap, contain, or package ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, produce, unwrapped bulk food items or perishable food items in order to avoid damage or contamination;
  • Plastic bags used to carry dry cleaning or prescription drugs; and
  • Multiple plastic bags sold in packages and intended for use as garbage, pet waste, or leaf removal bags.

Joshua Barlow

Joshua Barlow is a writer, composer, and producer who has worked for CGTN, Atlantic Public Media, and National Public Radio. He lives in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he pays attention to developments in his neighborhood, economic issues, and social justice.

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