The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted nine to one to ask staff to draft an ordinance for a five-cent single-use plastic bag tax for presentation to the board in September; part of the drafting process includes a period of public outreach.
Supervisor James Walkinshaw introduced the proposal on Tuesday. He said, “There was an environmental survey of the Chesapeake Bay done several years ago and they discovered that the floor of the Chesapeake Bay is littered with plastic bags which is disrupting the habitat and ecosystem of the floor of the Chesapeake Bay, not to mention the micro-particles that come from torn plastic bags that unfortunately make their way into the food supply and the water supply and that all of us are ingesting.”
The tax was legalized by the 2020 General Assembly. HB 534, introduced by Delegate Betsy Carr (D-Richmond), and SB 11, introduced by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), authorize localities to enact five-cent taxes on disposable plastic bags and require the localities to use revenue from the tax for environmental cleanup and to provide re-usable bags. The tax revenue can only be used for environment cleanup, education to reduce environmental waste, and to provide reusable bags to customers on low-income food benefits programs.
Retailers are also allowed to keep a small percentage of the tax to offset their own costs related to implementing the tax. Through January 2023, retailers can keep two cents of the tax from each plastic bag to help offset their costs, but after 2023, they can only keep one cent. The tax wouldn’t take effect before January 2022, and localities have to give the Tax Commissioner three months to review the tax.
That creates a time crunch for localities that want to maximize the amount of revenue to help retailers offset their cost.
In April, Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination Deputy Director Susan Hafeli told The Virginia Star that Fairfax and other members of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission were waiting for additional clarification from the Department of Taxation. Walkinshaw said the motion is contingent on the Department of Taxation is finalizing its guidelines.
Still, Supervisor Walter Alcorn warned that more clarification might be needed from the General Assembly in 2022. He said, “There are some issues about the enabling legislation.”
Supervisor Pat Herrity voted against the motion.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this in the middle of a pandemic or a recovery from the pandemic,” he said. “The real issue to me is litter. That’s where the environmental damage is done. These are very, very, very recyclable. and in fact, solid waste is looking for ways to step up their option for recycling plastic bags.”
Herrity said the problem with recycling bags is that they need to be separated out from other materials for processing.
He said, “I think we need to look at doing the right thing on plastic bags which is, let’s start collecting them and recycling them, not taxing our residents for them.”
Board Chairman Jeffrey McKay replied, “I think the best thing we can do is hear from our public about this, and so this board matter today is suggesting that we have public engagement on the issue.”
He said, “That’s the beauty of a public hearing process and drafting up an ordinance so that we can talk about it in detail.”
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