Single-use plastic bag regulations come to Loudoun-Middleburg County Sustainability Committee

The City of Middleburg’s Sustainability Committee, formerly the Go Green Committee, has been lobbying the powers that be in Richmond for some years, through the city’s membership in the Virginia Municipal League, or VML, to adopt a form of regulation on single-use plastic bags.

Disposable plastic bags have become a major form of pollution in rivers and streams, and a hazard to wildlife, birds and other animals suffocating in the litter of plastic bags. Landfills have seen a continuous increase in the volume of disposable plastic bags that do not decompose, but end up breaking into tiny fragments, or microplastics, which in turn enter the groundwater system and, potentially, the soil. water we drink.

During its 2020 session, the General Assembly passed Bill 534, becoming the Virginia Code § 58.1-1745, which allows any Commonwealth county or city to impose a 5-cent tax on a disposable plastic bag supplied by certain retailers, primarily grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores, except food banks and clothing stores, as well as bags offered to carry ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, restaurant scraps, newspapers, dry cleaning, alcoholic beverages and medications on order. The bill also does not apply to durable plastic bags with handles that have been designed to be used multiple times and are 4 mils or thicker, and to bags sold in packages intended to be used for cleaning garden leaves, cleaning up pet waste or as garbage bags. .

Following the passage of this bill, it was then up to individual counties and cities to decide whether or not to implement the tax. Early adopters were Fairfax and Arlington counties, as well as the cities of Alexandria, Roanoke and Fredericksburg. At its January 18, 2022 business meeting, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors narrowly passed the tax that will pass countywide, and thus Middleburg, on July 1, 2022.

The reference to “tax” could however be better defined, as in effect none of the 5 cents will be perceived as county revenue. The majority, 3 cents, will go towards cleanup and pollution mitigation and providing reusable grocery bags to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as the program for women, infants and children (WIC).

Until January 1, 2023, stores that supply disposable plastic bags will be able to withhold 2 cents from the 5 cents per bag, after which it will be reduced to 1 cent.

The hope and intention is that fewer and fewer shoppers will use disposable plastic bags, preferring to take their own much stronger reusable bags when they go to the store, thereby reducing this terrible form of pollution and helping to ensure a healthy future ecosystem.

At its annual Wellness Day events, held before the pandemic, the Go Green Committee partnered with local businesses to provide sponsored reusable grocery bags that are still used by locals. We see an opportunity for more such sponsorship in the future, in a win-win situation for all.

Bryce K. Locke