Tax on single-use plastic bags is coming to Charlottesville and Albemarle on January 1

The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County will impose a five-cent tax on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies starting Jan. 1.

At its regular business meeting Monday night, the Charlottesville City Council voted 4-0 (Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade was traveling to church and was not in attendance) in favor of the tax, which, according to city officials and community members, will significantly reduce pollution caused by single-use plastic bags.

Albemarle County officials approved his tax in May.

Lily more of our reports on the tax and its possible effects on the environment and the community.

Councilman Michael Payne pointed out that similar programs have been successful in other cities and towns like San Jose, California, where the accumulation of plastic bags in storm drains, streams and rivers has dropped by more than half. after the imposition of the tax.

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. according to National Geographic reports. Hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic bags end up in landfills and oceans every year. The bags take 1,000 years to decompose, while leaching harmful chemicals into water and land. They also have direct effects on wildlife: sea ​​turtles mistake floating bags for jellyfish and eat them.

“Given how effective it is and the pollution from plastics, I’m in favor of this,” Payne said.

All city and county grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores are required to participate and will collect the tax from customers upon payment.

The tax will only apply to plastic bags used at checkout, not plastic product bags, Deputy Director of Operations Sam Sanders told Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Nearly a dozen localities in Virginia have similar policies, which stem from a 2020 state law granting local governments the ability to impose such a tax.

This law sets out four potential uses for the money collected:

  1. Fund reusable bags for the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP) and its subsidiary program specifically for women, infants, and children (WIC) beneficiaries, which the city plans to prioritize;
  2. Education to reduce environmental waste;
  3. Mitigation of pollution and waste;
  4. Environmental depollution.

“The reason for focusing on the first element is, of course, to ensure there’s no disparate impact on low-income households,” Sanders said. “And because we really need to see what would be generated by collecting the tax, it’s best that we focus on that to make sure we don’t create hardship for individual households before then moving on to the climate action that may result from any additional funds that may be available.

Just five months from Jan. 1, Sanders said his office will immediately step up efforts to create distribution programs for community members who may struggle to afford reusable bags. Among the provisions he hopes to clarify is whether the city can use funding for the elderly and disabled wheeled bags, which Councilman Sena Magill previously suggested.

Councilor Payne urged people to contact Council directly with ideas on how to distribute reusable bags. “Let us know,” he said. (Contact Council here.)

During the public comment period, most speakers were in favor not just of collecting the levy, but of ensuring that people who need bags get bags.

Members of the Green Grannies sang a song to the tune of “A Tisket, A Tasket”, their original lyrics advocating to refuse plastic bags and reuse cloth ones for the sake of the environment and all creatures alive.

Michael Pillow, a representative for the local Sierra Club, suggested different ways people could reduce their use of plastic bags, including using reusable bags or forgoing bags altogether and using a cart to bring items. to their car.

The Sierra Club has already distributed about 200 reusable shopping bags to two food pantries, one in Charlottesville and another in Earlysville, as well as the Reid Super-Save Market and IX Art Park Farmer’s Market, Pillow wrote in a Follow-up email to Charlottesville Tomorrow.

The club is ready to work with city and county authorities, as well as community organizations, to continue bag distribution efforts, Pillow said. He said he also knows people with a surplus of reusable bags in their trunks that they are willing to redistribute to others.

Nancy Carpenter, homelessness prevention administrator and acting director of housing programs for The Haven day shelter, asked council and the city manager’s office to consider expanding the distribution of reusable bags across the city. beyond SNAP and WIC recipients, because not everyone who needs the help — like people who just moved from the streets into housing — gets it.

Rosia Parker offered a personal anecdote to help Council better understand how the tax would directly affect low-income people like her, if efforts to distribute reusable bags prove ineffective.

“Some of us don’t get money and just get SNAP benefits,” Parker said. And SNAP benefits don’t pay for plastic bags — Parker said she learned that from visiting another part of Virginia that has already imposed its tax. Someone at the checkout gave her change so she could pay for the plastic bag.

“If it hadn’t been for someone who lent me that currency, I wouldn’t have been able to get my stuff out,” she said. “It forces us to drag our groceries in a basket and put them in a car, which some of us may not have. Some of us may be taking a bus.

Councilor Magill said it was good for city officials and staff to hear these stories and concerns so they can ensure that any free reusable bag distribution program takes care of all members of the community who might need it.

In addition to working with community organizations and neighborhood leaders, Magill suggested the city set up a hotline that people could call to request reusable bags.

It’s less about money and more about behavior, Snook said after the vote. “The hope is that this tax will not bring in a dime. We hope everyone will change their behavior and stop using these kinds of plastic bags, in which case we are one step closer to solving a problem.

Bryce K. Locke