The Arlington County Board voted unanimously to adopt a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic shopping bags during its Saturday, Sept. 18 meeting. Approval aligns with the County’s environmental goals to reduce pollution and protect natural landscapes and comes as the City of Alexandria and Fairfax County make the same commitment to reduce plastic bag waste. The tax will take effect in all three jurisdictions on Jan. 1, 2022.
In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly gave counties and cities the authority to adopt the 5-cent tax — with revenues earmarked for local environmental education and cleanup. The legislation was supported by the Virginia Recycling Association.
The tax gives shoppers an incentive to bring their own reusable totes rather than accept single-use disposable plastic that can end up polluting local waterways or simply tossed in with trash destined for incinerators and landfills. The tax would apply only to plastic bags issued at grocery, convenience and drug store checkouts.
- Retailers required to collect the tax can keep a portion: $0.02 per bag for the next two calendar years; $0.01 per bag in subsequent years
- Collection will be overseen by the state Department of Taxation, which established program guidelines and handles distribution of revenues to the localities
- A variety of task-specific bags like those used for holding ice cream, meat and seafood, vegetables and protecting dry cleaning are excluded from the tax
- Also exempt: bags that are products themselves, like those used for lining trash cans and holding pet waste
- Paper bags at checkout are also not subject to the proposed tax
Plastic Bag Recycling
Arlington’s curbside residential recycling program does not accept plastic bags and films because they can damage sorting equipment. Many local supermarkets do offer bag recycling drop-off bins.
Some retailers in Arlington and elsewhere have for years given shoppers a discount for using their own shopping bags.
Arlington’s implementation is in line with identical efforts in neighboring Alexandria and Fairfax County. Enactment by all three jurisdictions means the plastic bag tax will take effect across much of Northern Virginia in January 2022.
Arlington County will now embark on a fall education and engagement campaign to help residents understand the benefits including saving at the register with reusable bags and a cleaner community.
The County will be addressing the equity impacts of this change. The state legislation allows proceeds of the tax to fund the purchase of reusable bags for WIC and SNAP program beneficiaries and Arlington anticipates expanding that to others in our community.
Arlington County is considered a national leader in sustainability efforts, ranging from its plan to become a carbon-neutral community by 2050 to its addition this month of residential curbside food scraps collection, diverting substantial organic waste from trash to create beneficial compost.