Plastic Bag Tax Considered By Fairfax City Council

FAIRFAX CITY, VA – Residents of Fairfax City may soon be required to pay a 5-cent tax on each disposable plastic bag provided to them when purchasing groceries or other merchandise at city stores. City council members discussed the proposal in a working session on Tuesday evening.

Virginia Code allows the city to impose a tax of $ 0.05 on disposable plastic bags, according to the presentation of city staff. The state tax administrator is also authorized to collect and apply tax in the same manner as it does for retail sales tax. Localities must also submit the tax ordinance three months before it comes into force.

“The aim of the plastic bag tax is to change consumer behavior,” said Stefanie Kupta, the city’s sustainability coordinator, in her presentation to the council. “So we want them to switch from using disposable plastic bags to sturdy, durable and reusable bags.”

The following plastic bags are exempt from the draft ordinance:

  • Durable plastic bags for reuse (at least 4 mils)
  • Plastic bags used only for wrapping, containing or wrapping
  • Plastic bags used for dry cleaning or prescription drugs
  • Plastic bags sold in packaging for garbage, pet waste, holiday disposal, etc.

Kupta explained that pollution from plastic bags is harmful to the environment and poses a risk to the health of humans and animals.

“Besides spoiling our natural and scenic surroundings with trash and pollution, plastic bags contain harmful chemicals and they never really break down,” she said. “Instead, they break down into smaller pieces called ‘microplastics’, which are released into the environment and consumed by humans and animals through our food and water sources.”

The proposed plastic bag tax would help alleviate this problem by reducing the number of bags that end up on the city’s streets, streams and stormwater system, Kupta said. It would also generate income that the city could use for environmental cleanup and education.

Virginia has released its final guidelines for localities on implementing a plastic bag tax ordinance. The public comment period on these guidelines is open until October 27, with October 28 being the expected effective date. Kupta told the council that the state does not expect the guidelines to change.

In previous legislative packages submitted to the Virginia General Assembly, city council has expressed support for legislation that would help regulate and reduce the distribution of disposable plastic bags in the city.

To assess the impact of the tax, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission surveyed local regulators about it in May. The city also sent letters to 34 companies, informing them of the investigation and encouraging them to participate. The businesses included 14 supermarkets / grocery stores, eight convenience stores, six drugstores and six gas stations with operating convenience stores.

“The main feedback we received from retailers included concerns that residents would not want to pay the tax and they also asked that they want to get some outreach material, such as graphics and signs that they could use. in their stores, ”Kupta said.

Four municipalities in Virginia have already passed plastic bag tax ordinances, which would come into effect on January 1, 2022. These are the cities of Roanoke and Alexandria, and the counties of Arlington and Fairfax.

If city council decides to pass the ordinance, city staff would need additional staff and resources to implement it. City staff also recommended hiring a consultant to help with the adoption and implementation of the ordinance, as well as a temporary staff member, perhaps an environmental program specialist.

After the staff presentation was completed, the board provided comments and asked questions.

Council member Joseph Harmon has expressed concern about the exempt bags, saying they could be just as damaging to the environment as those targeted by the ordinance. He acknowledged that it was unfortunate that the city was limited in its ability to change what state law allowed.

“We can only do what we are allowed to do in a state of Dillon rule,” Harmon said, adding that many other jurisdictions were allowed to do more. He wondered if the ordinance was going to be particularly useful, especially since it would require more work and expense for its implementation and supervision.

When the ordinance goes into effect, traders will keep 2 of the 5 cents collected, leaving the city 3 cents per bag to pay for the implementation and enforcement of the new tax, Harmon said.

“Once you factor in the administrative costs and the money kept by traders, I’m not sure how much money is going to be spent on its stated purpose,” he said.

Harmon asked staff to investigate other places that have adopted a 5-cent plastic bag tax to see how much of the money raised ended up going to the programs the tax was designed to support. .

Board member Sang Yi asked if replacing plastic bags with paper bags had less impact on the environment, as paper bags would need more energy and water to produce.

“It was a key part of our legislative package and of our request to the General Assembly consistently for several consecutive years,” said Mayor David Meyer, concluding the working session. “What we received from the last session of the General Assembly was imperfect. We are not the only ones who have something imperfect. All Commonwealth jurisdictions have done so.”

However, Meyer acknowledged that several jurisdictions – some like Fairfax County with large populations – decided to pass the ordinance despite its imperfections.

“This is in no way to dismiss all the legitimate and straightforward questions that you have all asked this evening,” he said. “These are good questions. Staff will make a good faith effort to investigate further and try to give us more information.”

Since previous city councils and residents have expressed interest in enacting a plastic bag tax, Meyer asked staff to consider the council’s questions and come back within 90 days with additional information to consider. account by the board.

Bryce K. Locke