Charlottesville is considering a five-cent tax on plastic bags | local government

Grocery stores and convenience stores in the city of Charlottesville may have to start charging customers for using disposable plastic bags.

The city council is considering levying a five-cent tax on every disposable plastic bag distributed in city stores. The city will hold a public hearing at its Aug. 1 meeting to give residents a chance to tell council what they think before council votes on the tax.

If approved, the tax will take effect on January 1.

In 2020, the General Assembly and the Governor changed state law to allow cities and counties to tax bags. The City of Roanoke became the first locality to adopt the tax last year, and at least four additional localities followed suit and began taxing bags in early 2022.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a five-cent tax on plastic bags in May. The tax will come into effect on January 1.

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If the city approves the tax, shoppers in both jurisdictions would have to pay a penny for each plastic bag they use to carry groceries or other items. Customers who bring their own bags would not pay the tax.

Plastic bags used only to prevent damage or contamination of multiple items such as meat, produce, dry cleaning and prescription drugs would not be subject to tax.

“We want to be in tune with the county,” Mayor Lloyd Snook said at Monday’s council meeting during a presentation on the tax given by Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders.

Snook said if the city applied the same tax as the county, it would standardize taxation at area grocery stores, since community members often cross city and county lines to shop.

Acting City Manager Michael C. Rogers said he was in conversation with Albemarle County Executive Jeff Richardson to work on rolling out the tax implementation at the same time.

If the city passes an ordinance, customers would pay the tax to stores who would then give the money to the state. The money raised must be used to “support environmental cleanup, waste and pollution mitigation, or environmental education efforts or provide reusable bags to beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or program benefits for women, infants and children,” according to state law.

Sanders said the city is looking at different types of reusable bags it could purchase and distribute to community members and the benefits of different types of materials, such as linen, canvas or durable plastic.

Councilor Sena Magill suggested the purchase of wheeled bags to facilitate the transport of groceries for elderly and disabled members of the community. Sanders said he and Deputy City Manager Ashley Marshall were looking at various wheeled options.

Some plastic bags can be recycled, but according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the recycling rate for plastic bags, bags and packaging was 10% in 2018. The agency says plastic pollution is particularly dangerous because it does not fully biodegrade in the environment.

Councilor Brian Pinkston voiced his support for implementing the tax, saying he had received dozens of emails and phone calls from voters in support of the tax.

“It seems like a fairly uncontroversial type of thing,” he said.

Bryce K. Locke