Reston, VA

The Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination has proposed a process of drafting a five-cent plastic bag tax ordinance in Tuesday’s Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Environmental Committee meeting

According to Susan Hafeli, the Deputy Director of OEEC, Fairfax County legislation allows the county 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, there are no guidelines from the state regarding the creation of a plastic bag ordinance, rather, the state intends to wait until a locality adopts an ordinance to consider guidelines, according to the presentation.

The revenues are to 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, although, the tax may be more of an “impetus to behavior change rather than a revenue generator,” said Hafeli.

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, with the discussion of issues regarding equity in the county. 

OEEC anticipates that action for this process will occur in two phases. The first phase will focus on public engagement, from developing an informative website, to holding one or more workshops for input, to releasing an electronic survey.

The second phase will focus on the development of the ordinance, including updating the webpage with the proposed ordinance and requests for comments, presentations to the Board’s Environmental Committee, and requests to advertise and hold a public hearing, according to Hafeli. 

Concerns from several supervisors regarding the ordinance included confusion regarding state guidelines, equity issues within the community, and ensuring there is good research on the issue, 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 major water sources, including 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.

Photo by Brian Yurasits/Unsplash

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