Morning Poll: Plastic Bag Ban?

by November 8, 2010 at 8:15 am 7,327 72 Comments

The Arlington County Board is seeking the authority to ban or tax the distribution of single-use plastic bags at retailers in the county, according to the Sun Gazette — but it’s an uphill climb.

Since Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, Arlington must first ask the state legislature for permission to pursue policies not specifically allowed by state law. In past years, the state government has been reluctant to grant Arlington any new taxing power.

Arlington will make its unlikely bag request during the General Assembly session starting Jan. 12.

D.C. has already imposed a tax on disposable plastic bags in an effort to limit their use. Should Arlington follow the District’s example?

  • MikeyinCrystalC

    I say tax them. That way the option is still there if you need them.

    • LP

      Agree with Mikey…I try to bring reusable bags each time I go to the store, but I find having some plastic bags is good to pile my recycling in, etc.

      • ABC

        I have to call out the irony here. You use plastic bags for your recycling? I don’t want to be too tough on you because it’s great that you use reusable bags and that you recycle…but why not use a paper bag to stack your recycling in? Or better yet, a reusable bin/tub/can?

        • Courthouse Resident

          We use a mix of paper/plastic bags to temporarily hold recycling before taking it down. In a small apartment we have a large bin downstairs and we try to reuse any plastic bags as a means to hold a few things at a time until we can take them down. Eventually the bags really become too full of holes and I take them to the grocery store or plop them in the recycling can as well.

    • Burger

      Of course, the better way is to provide a 5 cent reduction in price instead of a tax the usage. That way people can make the choice whether to pay instead of automatically paying the tax. As LP notes, she uses plastic bags for certain things. As do I for cleaning up after my dog.

      • Jason S

        I think they do something like this at Harris Teeter, I never bother to ask about it.

        • Carm

          Whole Foods gives a 5 cent reduction for each reusable bag. I keep reusable bags at work (dc) and home (arlington). They really come in handy.

  • bob

    Hmm. Looking for page views today?

  • DB

    Tax them and you will just send the majority of people across the county line to Fairfax and Alexandria to do their shopping. Then you lose any benefit of taxing them as you lose the tax income from the sales and possibly the retailers themselves.

    • BoredHouseWife

      No one is going to travel to Fairfax (unless it is convenient). They will just opt for paper bags or bring their own. Who drives miles out of their way so they can opt for plastic bags?

      • Katie


        Don’t tread on me!

      • Rob

        The same people who drive miles out of their way to save 2 cents on a gallon of gasoline?

      • MRod

        When Falls Church/Fairfax Giants, Harris Teeters, and Shoppers have larger stores, bigger parking lots, cleaner facilities, a better selection of goods and lower prices — that bag difference means I’d reorganize my chores and shopping trips away from my VA square offerings.

    • Runaway Train

      DB- I don’t see this happening. What are you basing your statement on? It is only a matter of time before other jurisdictions consider similar taxes or bans on plastic bags.
      Look at how many plastic bags end up caught in shrubs or in S Four Mile Run. People buy 1 item and get a plastic bag that ends up in the trash, how difficult would it be for people to say “no thanks, I don’t need a bag”.
      It would be great to see a 5 cent tax (similar to DC) that will discourage the use of the plastic bags, but if someone still needs them, they can pay the extra 5 cents per bag.

      • Jason S

        A novel idea would be to actually enforce littering laws. The fact is, people in Arlington are filthy and litter quite often. If litter is the problem to be solved and we cannot effectively tax anything that may end up as little, then obvious answer is to enforce laws against littering.

        • Christine

          Thank you Jason! Why can’t we enforce the rules and laws we have rather than adding new taxes and penalties??? I for one make use of all those plastic bags, AND I bring reusable bags when I don’t need any more plastic ones.

        • Jason S

          “End up as litter” not “end up as little”. Time for coffee.

        • Lacey Forest

          So, who is going to enforce the litter laws? If a plastic bag blows out of my trash, or I just drop it and watch it blow away, who is going to hand me a ticket? As soon as APD starts handing out littering tickets, people will complain that they are not going after real lawbreakers, and when have you ever seen enough APD officers hanging around to actually give out littering tickets? Do you organize and staff litter police or greatly increase the number of zoning officers and let them give out littering tickets? How do you pay for that staff growth? Perhaps by putting a tax on plastic bags? It’s easy to say “Just enforce the exiting litter laws”, but what is your plan for doing that?

          • Jason S

            If we have laws, they should be enforced. If we don’t enforce them, why have them? One might also see, if they are willing, that the fines from littering would also help pay for enforcement of those laws, much as we have with traffic and parking violations.

        • Lola

          Enforcing littering laws would cost all of us much more money! You need to hire a lot of extra police to…what…patrol everywhere? I don’t see how that’s cost effective. I wish we could completely enforce littering laws, I support that 100%, but it’s just not plausible. And trying to do it would cost the tax payer a lot more money than $0.05 per bag. This post mentions only plastic bags. I think both plastic and paper bags should be assessed the fee.

          • Jason S

            It seems quite arbitrary to tax this one thing, but not others. In fact, it *is* arbitrary.

      • Greg

        The Post recently ran an article on the DC bag tax. They interviewed several people who claimed to drive out of DC for groceries. Now, almost certainly those people come out worse off when factoring in gas, wear on their cars, and sales tax on food if they are coming to Virginia. But it still happens.

        That said, tax the bags. I would assume only a very small number of people will go out of their way to travel to Fairfax over a few cent tax.

  • Matt

    Definitely don’t ban them outright. They’re more resilient (have you ever walked with a 6 pack of beer straight from the fridge in a brown paper bag?) and have many more uses – I use old plastic bags to put my lunch in when I bring it to work, clean up after the dog outside, etc.

    A 5 cent per bag tax isn’t that onerous, and anyone who changes their behavior based on it is a little crazy, in my opinion. If they decide to tax it, though, I hope they make it clearer than in DC, where it depends on whether the vendor sells food, but doesn’t include if you get prepared food, and a host of other exceptions/special cases.

  • PurpleFlipFlops

    Geeze, what is up with the county board. Who are these people at their doorsteps screaming for this — or for opting out of ICE, or suing the HOT lanes??

    What’s next, are they are going to try to opt-out of the 2nd amendment?

    I hope the VA legislature laughs in their faces.

  • charlie

    Ban them. People will learn to bring their own reusables.
    I recently saw that in Europe you don’t get a bag when you go shopping that you MUST bring your own.
    Tax them is just stealing money from us. Ban them all out.

    • Jason S

      I could accept this more than taxes, because at least it’s not an obvious attempt to squeeze a bit more money out of the residents and guests of Arlington for inane pet projects.

    • anon

      That assumes people who shop in Arlington know about the ban – many won’t. Tourists in Ballston/Courthouse/Rosslyn would be shocked when they have to try and carry their CVS purchases home in their hands. Not to mention how transient this area is. A ban would just profit the Grocery store’s reusable bag sales.

      Also, there are many times I need to carry something somewhere and do not want to wag a resuable bag along for the rest of the day – and paper bags are no good in the rain. Those reusable bags also carry lots of germs if you don’t wash them regularly (most people don’t).

      Banning or taxing is a bad idea.

      • charlie

        poor tourists.
        they’ll figure it out.
        and what is wrong with people having to buy a resuable bag (25c).
        If we were true liberals we would think that was good to educate the visitor so that they go back and say, “hey, why is my community still giving out free plastic bags?”

        • Jason S

          Well, they aren’t free. They are part of the service, which is abstracted away into the cost of the goods sold. The visitors might also go home thinking, “Wow, Arlington is a really inconvenient place to visit.”

        • anon

          If reusable bags become 25 cents, people will throw them out. I’m sure they aren’t great in the landfill either.

    • SamsontheCat

      I’d be interested to see someone look at who uses the most re-usable vs. plasic bags out of the following groups – people driving, people within a few steps of a grocery store, people in the middle.

      I keep some re-usable bags and a box in in my car and use them when I go do a heavy shopping trip, but many times I just stop at the store on my way home from the metro for several items. On those occasions I usually don’t have a re-usable bag and get a plastic bag (which I re-use and yes I understand that if I just always kept a re-usable bag in my pocket or fashioned one out of my pants I could solve theis problem/run afoul of the Arlington PD). A friend who scoffs at plastic bags also lives with a HT below her so it’s easy to go bag free.

      If bags were outlawed people like me would probably end up driving to the store more often, which kind of defeats the environmental benefits.

  • Jason S

    Let’s not kid ourselves, the board is interested in taxes more than anything else. Over time, plastic bags will be phased out naturally. The basic tactic is to find things which are unpopular and tax them with the support of people who aren’t smart enough to know things they like which are unpopular will be taxed sometime soon as well.

    As for following DC’s example, there are probably few jurisdictions worse to follow in the US than DC.

    Besides, of all things Arlington could worry about, plastic bags should be low on the list. It makes me wonder what they board really does with their time.

  • JimPB

    The poll option, “Don’t do anything — let stores and shoppers decide whether to use plastic bags.” left out an important party: the environment.

    I can readily envision opposing views of shoppers and store owners about this question. While I can readily identify reasons why the environment would NOT want plastic bags, I am at a complete loss as to even one little reason why the environment would want them bags.

    We should listen more and better to the environment. If not, one day it may bite us far worse than a Mama Grizzle for our abuses of it.

    • Greg

      Supposedly transportation and logistics of supplying stores with paper bags has a greater negative environmental impact than supply stores with plastic bags. Basically, a paper bag takes up much more space than a plastic one which translates into more trucks.

      If you are comparing plastic and reusable bags, I don’t have a clue.

    • Arlington_guy

      Yeah, I’ll ask a few bushes and trees how they feel about plastic bags on my commute home today. Then I’ll check with a few squirrels and birds to see if they have any thoughts on the matter. I’ll let you know what the consensus is tomorrow.

  • Texas Wahoo

    I don’t shop for groceries in DC, but I do buy lunch there almost every day. The biggest change from the bag tax seems to be that everyone just started using paper bags. I can reuse plastic bags as trash bags and recycling bags. I have no use for the paper bags, so I just throw them away. I’m not sure it’s helping anything.

  • Amy

    Tax them. A nickel a bag is no big deal if you forget your own bag. Plus, just think of all the plastic bags that won’t be stashed in every nook and cranny at your house! (Unless you throw them right in the trash. If you do: Shame on you!)

    • Dan

      The plastic bags can be recycled if you place them in a bag and put them in your recycling cart…

  • Josh

    The Tax in DC is quietly a failure…what the city hasn’t stated is that while plastic bag use is down, people aren’t using reuseables and the city sales tax revenue took a nose dive as people have displaced their shopping to Arlington and Montgomery County.

    Yep we captured $1MM from bag taxes but we lost $30 Million in sales tax revenue that was displaced…WHAT A CRIME AND FARCE

    • South Arlington

      Pretty sure there wasn’t $30 million in lost sales tax revenue over the nickel bag tax. If you’re going to fabricate statistics, at least make the fabricated statistics semi-realistic.

      • Josh

        @South Arlington…

        Good point I should have put the link.

        According to the District CFO General Sales and Use use tax revenue was down $17 Million Jan-Jul 2010 since the bag tax enacted.

        Hard facts in writing from the City itself are the most shocking point to take home thanks for the reminder about the shocking link

        • South Arlington

          It’s quite a leap in logic to link a $17 million dollar tax revenue decrease to a nickel bag tax instead of the overall decrease in discretionary spending on restaurants and goods due to the recession. Just using back of the notepad math, assuming the 5.75% sales tax, you are linking $295M in decreased spending to the nickel bag tax? Really? Not to mention that groceries are exempt from sales tax anyways. I fail to see the correlation you’re going for.

    • rcw

      Do you have any supporting evidence that this much revenue was lost to consumers leaving DC to avoid the bag tax?

      • charlie

        people, with cars, leave DC to shop for groceries because the selection is horrible.

    • ABC

      You’re clearly making this up. First of all, DC doesn’t have a sales tax on groceries. So anyone driving to VA or MD to buy groceries would be pretty stupid because they’d end up paying much more in taxes than the 5 cents in costs for a bag. Second, how can DC lose money in sales tax revenues on groceries when they don’t charge sales tax? The plastic bag tax has been a huge success. When I shop in DC I see so many people using reusable bags. When I shop in VA I am so disappointed by the number of people still getting plastic bags. It’s so easy to get a reusable bag. There are so many types and styles out there. Get some that are machine washable and wash them often if you are concerned about germs. Envirosax are so small and easily condense to fit into a purse or pocket if you’re worried about having to carry a large bag around with you all day. Just get a bag that suits your needs and reuse it. It’s so easy, and it’s so much better for the environment. And if you forget your bag, pay the 5 cents. Not a big deal at all. And that money is direct to environmental clean up. To call it a tax is actually silly because it’s not really a tax. It’s just the cost of doing business with those bags. You are paying for the time and energy that goes into making that bag and the environmental costs of transporting them and cleaning up after them. Actually, the amount should be higher than 5 cents so you’re still getting a deal. People like to get everything they want and not have to pay for it.

      • Josh

        Our tax does cover…

        All tangible personal property and certain selected services sold or rented to businesses or individuals at retail in the District.

        Groceries, prescription and non-prescription drugs, and residential utility services are among those items exempt from the sales tax.

        The use tax is imposed at the same rate as the sales tax on purchases made outside the District and then brought into the District to be used, stored or consumed, providing that the purchaser has not paid the sales tax on the purchases to another jurisdiction.

        DC Code Citation: Title 47, Chapters 20 and 22.

        The point is how there is signs of correlation and you would be willing to jump with out study…?

    • Let’s Be Free

      You right on your facts. I for one work in DC and stopped lunch-time shopping at CVS and other locales in the District in favor of stopping on the home commute at stores in VA after the bag tax was enacted. I am sick and tired of the government telling parties what they have to do, as opposed to allowing them to work it out among themselves.

  • DT

    They should hire the illegals they want to protect and have them clean up the bags. They should then convert the dog parks into work centers for them too.

  • Dan

    Sorry for the repeat message but you can recycle the plastic grocery bags in your regular recycling. They just ask that you bag all of the bags into a single bag.

  • SamsontheCat

    You already pay for the plastic bags when you buy your groceries, whether you use them or not. The store has to buy them and has to spread the cost out in the price of your groceries. Sure, it’s probably only bananas at $.59 instead of $.58 a pound, in the big picture, but the fee is there. At the register you can either pay $10, of which $9.99 is groceries and $0.01 is the built in price of the bag or $10 and use a reusable bag and not get a bag and forfeit that $0.01 to the store’s profit margin (or to pad them against the guy one lane over who double bags the pack of gum he bought. If you tax them the fee will still be there, just with an extra 5 cents going to the government. So for the people who use a reusable bag, they would only really escape $0.04 in hidden costs/taxes.

  • SamsontheCat

    A better idea is to take off the built in bag price when you bring a bag, like a coffee shop where you take your own cup. You save them overhead so they deduct the price. Half these stores have their loyalty programs. Why not take those “savings” they give you and put them on as a certain credit. For every $10 you spend they put $0.02 to your credit, and when you hit the price of one of their reusable bags you can apply it to buying one. They look more eco-friendly, encourage you to tote around one of their logo bags, and can buy fewer bags next month.

    • itstim

      I agree with this. Why not give incentives to customers to bring their own bags instead of taxing those who don’t? Encourage good behavior.

  • Katie

    At places like Rite Aid and Target, I have to say more than once “no bag please”–the move to grab the plastic is so robotized. Then what often happens is that the clerk takes the bag and THROWS IT AWAY!

    • BagsBlow

      I hear ya Katie. They try to put a chapstick in a bag. CHAPSTICK, in a BAG? I love when some checkout clerk puts a 5lb bag of potatoes in a bag by itself, seriously? Then they look at you like you got your head cut off when you tell them “no bag, no bag”.

  • Lola

    I like it when stores give me 5 cents off for each reusable bag. But I think paying 5 cents per bag actually makes more sense. In DC this fee goes to environmental cleanup, which is necessary because of the litter and trouble these bags create for our environment. Incomes taxes could be raised to cover these environmental costs, but I think it makes more sense for the people using these bags to cover these costs. That way we each have a choice. If you want to participate in harming our environment you can, but you have to pay for the privilege. If you don’t want to get plastic bags than harm our environment then you don’t have to pay. It’s the ultimate free market, which is why I find it hilarious when Republicans goes all crazy about it. If we don’t charge for each bag used, then we all end up paying for it because environmental cleanup costs come out of our income taxes. This gets paid for either way, it’s just an issue of who pays…everyone, or just those that are creating the problem in the first place. And of course not everyone who uses plastic bags litters, but even recycling these bags costs the state/localities money.

    • Texas Wahoo

      “If you want to participate in harming our environment you can, but you have to pay for the privilege. If you don’t want to get plastic bags than harm our environment then you don’t have to pay.”

      But this only works if we tax paper bags, which are even more harmful to the environment. It’s anti-free market in that the government is telling consumers to harm the environment in one out of two possible ways.

      • Lola

        I think that both plastic and paper bags should be assessed the $0.05 fee!

    • Jason S

      So we are going to raise taxes on newspapers, magazines, fliers, soda, beer, potato chips, bottled water, and anything which somebody might possibly throw away? Make the penalty for littering 8 hours of public service cleaning parks and sidewalks and we can probably cut down on litter more effectively while actually targeting the litterers themselves.

      • PGFDE121

        You forgot smokers, why don’t we just enforce littering rules and when someone can’t walk 5 feet to an ashtray we fine then $50 a shot.

  • Glebe

    I pick up dogxhit with these bags. Isnt that the most efficient way of recycling – to reuse? if i were to buy a package of bags, there would be packaging, shipping from china, etc. do you think the $0.05 stupid tax in DC even pays for the administration of such tax?

  • Deme

    Gee everybody.To all the suggestion on most of the post are either ban or tax the consumer or the maker of the product.Does anyone think that if you tax or pay a fee to use plastic bags guess what is going to happen? The store are going to raise prices and also more people going to be unemployed.We already had high unemployment in this country and most of our company leaving to go to other country cause of all the Beaureucrats in our Government and the Stupidity of the people in this country.Then lots of you complain that why we are sending our jobs overseas.Go figure people.You guys should do research on how plastics are made versus papers.

  • bsu4phd

    Yes, 5 cent bag tax & also 5 cent bottle deposit.

  • thoscarlyle

    Typical green posturing. ‘Plastic bag obsession is carrier for environmental ignorance’

  • lyon village

    George Carlin said it all in his own inimitable way:

  • MC

    Taxing plastic bags is a silly feel good solution to a non-existent problem. No one is arguing that Arlington plastic bags are flowing the Anacostia River, which is the purported reason DC adopted the measure. Arlington trash, whether plastic bags or something else, get burned and generates electricity for us to use. Paper bags that get recycled use electricity, and I’m sure many paper bags aren’t recycled. It would take an engineer with amazing data resources to figure if one is really much better environmentally than the other. It’s another washable verse disposable diapers controversy.

    Whatever the “logic” of the policy, we also know that people are not rational when it comes to economics. People do in fact feel resentful to being punished for having a preference any may drive to outside jurisdictions to avoid the slight. I don’t have a choice of a plastic bag at Trader Joe’s, and the damn bag them give me always breaks when I grab the handle. I buy fewer groceries at Whole Foods when it rains because they don’t offer plastic bags. To those patronizing people who think everyone should be hauling recycled carry bags with them at all times, they would not seem to be pedestrians who live a good few blocks from a store they pass by.

    I boldly predict whatever the public has to say about this the Board will decide they know better and impose their own decision, claiming is widely embraced.

  • Trixie

    Yes- lots of options for suppers to carry groceries!ban them, tax them – do something please!

  • JosephRicks

    if they decide to enforce littering laws, they’d also better enforce jaywalking laws; I personally don’t use the plastic bags.. I’ve got 3 kids, so I make each one carry a cardboard box for the groceries; this way, the kids learn about helping the environment, get bit of strength training, and are reminded of who’s the boss

  • MariaC

    I use reusable bags that I bought at Trader Joe’s. They’re great. I vote to tax the bags. The loose ones harm the environment.

  • Get real.

    I”ve seen turtles dead from eating plastic bags, thinking they’re jellyfish–that’s enough to turn you off for life.
    Plastic Bag Facts
    12 million barrels of OIL are used to make the plastic bags consumed in the U.S. annually.
    Plastic creates 4 times the solid waste vs. paper bags; enough to fill the Empire State Building 2 1/2 times a year.
    88.5 billion plastic bags were consumed in the U.S. last year.
    It takes up to 1000 years for plastic bags to biodegrade in our landfills.
    The average family of four uses 1460 plastic bags a year.
    An estimated 500 billion plastic bags are sold worldwide each year.
    Less than 1% of all plastic bags are recycled in the U.S.
    Over 100,000 birds and marine life die each year due to an encounter with plastic debris, much of it plastic bags.
    Plastic is over-running our planet. Estimates run as high as one million pieces of plastic per square kilometer (0.6 mile) floating in specific areas of the Pacific Ocean.

    But plastic bags are so convenient!
    It depends on how far you are looking. A plastic bag may be convenient for a minute or two when you carry something out of the store, but for the rest of the life of the bag (which is waaay past your lifetime) it is not just inconvenient, it is ugly, toxic, and life-threatening. There are alternatives to plastic bags, many of which were used by our parents and grandparents quite handily.

    Paper Bag Facts

    14 million trees are cut down to make the paper bags used in a year.
    Only 20% of paper bags get recycled.
    When one ton of paper bags is reused or recycled, three cubic meters of landfill space is saved and 13-17 trees are spared! In 1997, 955,000 tons of paper bags were used in the United States.
    Paper cannot be recycled indefinitely. It can only be recycled 4-6 times. Some virgin pulp must be introduced into the process to maintain the strength and quality of the fiber, so no matter how much we recycle we will never eradicate the need for virgin fiber.
    Paper is the number one material that we throw away. For every 100 pounds of trash we throw away, 35 pounds is paper. Newspapers take up about 14 percent of landfill space, and paper in packaging accounts for another 15 to 20 percent.
    (Source: EPA, Institute for lifecycle Environmental Assessment and

    • Texas Wahoo

      “Plastic creates 4 times the solid waste vs. paper bags; enough to fill the Empire State Building 2 1/2 times a year.”

      This is only true because plastic bags are used much more than paper bags. Paper bags actually produce over four times more solid waste than plastic bags per kg of carrying capacity.

      • MariaC

        Paper bags are bad also. People should use reusable.

  • recycle

    Here’s a video that I came across on YouTube which relates to Seventh Generation, one of the advocates of corporate social responsibility worldwide. This was a recent interview by GreenopolisTV with Seventh Generation’s co-founder, Dave Rapaport


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