Virginia Beach is entangled in the problem of plastic bag fees – The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH — A proposal to charge city grocery stores 5 cents per plastic bag has hit a snag. The city council is torn between wanting to protect the environment while avoiding unduly burdening residents with another tax.

The struggle to reach consensus was revealed at a council meeting on August 23 when a consultant reported on the results of recent meetings on reducing the use of plastic bags with industry representatives retail, conservationists and residents.

“All said this was an urgent need that needed to be addressed, but disagreed on the approach,” consultant Mary Jo Burchard of Concord Solutions told the meeting. “They wanted to make sure that whatever was done included social equity, that it didn’t place an unreasonable burden on already vulnerable people.”

The city paid the consulting firm $11,515 to plan, prepare and facilitate three 2-hour sessions, data analysis and reporting.

A state law allows Virginia Beach to charge a 5-cent fee for each disposable plastic bag at grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies. Retailers can keep 1 cent, and the other 4 cents collected by the Department of Taxation must be spent on environmental cleanup, educational programs to reduce pollution, mitigate pollution and litter, or provide bags reusable to SNAP and WIC recipients.

Several localities in Virginia have implemented the tax, including Fairfax County, Alexandria and Charlottesville.

In its first five months, Fairfax County tax increased over $500,000 in revenue. He’s on track to receive more than $1.2 million in the first year.

Virginia Beach conservationists have urged the city council to pass a law requiring retailers to charge a fee to reduce the use of plastic bags, which can pollute area waterways.

“They don’t see this as a large-scale approach – the magic bullet – but rather to start helping individuals and different populations to be aware of the option and to ensure that people who have chosen not to do something different pay for it. bag,” Burchard said.

The city council must vote on release the day after Labor Day, but most members want to postpone it again. The vote was initially postponed earlier this summer to allow more time for public comment.

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The Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission, which participated in the consultant’s feedback sessions, wrote a letter to the city council asking that the vote be postponed until next year to study how the fee will affect homeless people. , residents on fixed incomes and the elderly.

Councilman Michael Berlucchi challenged the creation of the tax to change people’s actions.

“It’s the role of government to create policies that are good for our community, but I don’t want a government whose goal is to change my behavior,” Berlucchi said.

Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten is supporting the city by donating reusable bags to people who may not be able to pay a plastic bag tax.

“I started using reusable bags during the pandemic,” Wooten said. “After doing it routinely, it gets a little easier.”

According to the consultant, representatives of the retail industry plan to draft a memorandum of understanding with the city listing their efforts to be more environmentally friendly. Many said they had set a goal of eliminating single-use plastic bags by 2025, she said.

Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125,

Bryce K. Locke