New year brings new tax on plastic bags at grocery stores and more in Fairfax County

Plastic bag on ground (via Ivan Radic/Flickr)

When the new year starts, plastic bags will come with a new price tag.

Fairfax County’s 5-cent tax on single-use plastic bags will take effect for the first time on Saturday (Jan. 1). The fee will also be introduced in Arlington County and the City of Alexandria.

The towns of Herndon and Vienna are included, but the City of Falls Church passed its own ordinance that will begin April 1.

Virginia’s new law, passed in 2020, allows localities to introduce the tax starting in 2022. Research has shown that introducing such a fee influences consumers, helping promote environmental friendly behavior.

Although stores must pay the tax, they can still give plastic bags away for free. However, a sampling of companies by FFXnow suggests customers at various chains can expect to pay at stores ranging from Giant to Harris Teeter.

Wegmans stopped providing disposable plastic bags to customers at its four Fairfax County stores in early December, offering 5-cent paper bags instead.

Big box chains that include products beyond just groceries are also affected, according to Fairfax County. Walmart didn’t initially respond to a message seeking comment for its plans.

Target said it will charge customers for the bags, but it has a longstanding policy that rewards shoppers for bringing their own bags.

“In an effort to promote the use of reusable bags and keep more plastic bags out of landfills, Target gives guests a five-cent discount for each reusable bag used at all of our stores,” spokesperson Shane Kitzman said in an email. “For example, if a guest uses five reusable bags, they will receive a $0.25 discount on their purchase.”

Besides grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores are also subject to the tax.

The money will be used for environmental cleanup programs, pollution and litter mitigation programs, education programs on environmental waste reduction and providing reusable bags to recipients of food stamps and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program benefits.

Customers will continue to be able to donate plastic bags for recycling at major chains such as Giant, Harris Teeter, and Target. Bins are available in the front of stores.

Fairfax County advises people not to place plastic bags into recycling bins because the items can jam and entangle sorting equipment and conveyor belts and contaminate other grades of plastic being recycled at its facility.

The plastic bags tax doesn’t apply to heavy duty plastic bags, bags used to wrap fish, meat, bulk food items and certain other foods as well as plastic bags used to carry dry cleaning, prescription drugs or garbage/leaf/pet waste packages.

Photo via Ivan Radic/Flickr

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