The Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination proposed a process for establishing a five-cent plastic bag tax during the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Environmental Committee meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 8).
According to OEEC Deputy Director Susan Hafeli, legislation adopted by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year now gives the county the ability to adopt an ordinance imposing a five-cent tax on most disposable plastic bags provided by grocery stores, convenience stores, and drugstores.
As of right now, the state has not established specific guidelines for the creation of a plastic bag ordinance. Instead, the state intends to wait until a locality adopts an ordinance to consider guidelines, according to the presentation.
Revenue collected from the new tax would be appropriated for environmental clean-up, mitigation of pollution and litter, education, and the provision of reusable bags to recipients of a federal food support program, according to Hafeli.
The proposed plastic bag tax could generate annual aggregate local revenues of between $20.8 to $24.9 million statewide, though the tax may be more of an “impetus to behavior change rather than a revenue generator,” Hafeli said.
Across the region, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission Waste Management Board has begun exploring the issues laid out in the legislation, according to Hafeli. Additionally, Arlington County is planning to convene a public workgroup in early 2021 to discuss the adoption of a plastic bag tax and issues regarding equity in the county.
The OEEC anticipates that the process of determing whether Fairfax County should instate a plastic bag tax will occur in two phases. The first phase will focus on public engagement, which would include developing a website, holding one or more workshops for input, and releasing an electronic survey.
The second phase will focus on the development of the ordinance and would involve updating the webpage with the proposed ordinance and requests for comments, giving presentations to the board, and holding a public hearing, according to Hafeli.
Several supervisors expressed concerns about the confusion regarding state guidelines, equity issues within the community, and the ability to collect sufficient research on the topic, especially in the midst of the pandemic.
However, most supervisors agreed that the environmental issue with plastic bags is significant, and that data from other jurisdictions, including the work that Washington, D.C., has done around the Anacostia River, has shown a plastic bag tax to have positive environmental effects.
Moving forward, the Board is looking to clarify the state’s policies while working in conjunction with regional partners and plan for further conversation on how to create the ordinance.
The next Environmental Committee meeting will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 11 a.m.
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