Details About the Proposed Virginia Bag Law

by ARLnow.com November 10, 2010 at 8:08 am 2,682 38 Comments

Arlington’s Del. Adam Ebbin says he plans on introducing a bill that would impose a $0.05 fee on paper and plastic shopping bags, much like the current fee in place in the District.

Ebbin introduced the bill to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2009 and 2010, each time unsuccessful. He’s hoping for a different result in the upcoming 2011 legislative session.

If enacted into law, the bag fee would protect the environment, Ebbin said. Locally, he added, it would help make waterways like Four Mile Run cleaner.

When polled earlier this week, 52 percent of ARLnow.com readers supported a bag fee or ban.

Here’s the legislative summary of Ebbin’s 2010 bill, the Virginia Waterways Clean Up and Consumer Choice Act.

Paper and plastic bag fee. Imposes a fee of $0.05 on paper and plastic bags used by purchasers to carry tangible personal property from the place of purchase. Durable, reusable plastic bags and bags used for ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, leftover restaurant food, newspapers, dry cleaning and prescription drugs are exempt from the fee. Retailers are allowed to retain $0.01 of the $0.05 fee or $0.02 if the retailer has a customer bag credit program. The revenues raised by the fee will be deposited in the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund. Failure to collect and remit the fee will result in fines of $250, $500, and $1,000 for the first, second, third and thereafter offenses.

  • G. Clifford Prout


    • TGEoA

      that’s an insult to dumb.

  • PurpleFlipFlops

    I hope this fails miserably.

  • Let’s Be Free

    Fifty percent of Arlingtonians supporting the bill means something like 25 percent of the people in the rest of Virginia support it, but count me happy to see Ebbin and his comrading wasting their time on this one.

    If a cleaner Four Mile Run is desired the way to get there is for the County Board to get out of bed with developers to impose meaningful requirements for substantial stormwater retention facilities and to assess developers for increased density that overloads sanitary sewage capacity. Eliminating a plastic bag every few hundred feet along Four Mile Run wouldn’t accomplish much of anything.

    • Wilson Blvd Express

      What is/when was the last substantial development upstream from Shirlington? The developers at Shirlington put retention ponds in. Seems every thing along Four Mile Run is old development or redevelopment.

      • Let’s Be Free

        Five, ten, fifteen or twenty story buildings where there were one, two or three stories before is development.

        • cj

          Redevelopment is subject to quite stringent requirements for managing stormwater runoff. Most of the problem comes from older buildings and surface parking lots, plus county streets. Replacing a one-story building and surface lot with a high-rise with underground parking is a gain in terms of water quality, regardless of its impact in other respects.

          • Let’s Be Free

            Redevelopment triples, quadruples, quintuples and more the number of people, vehicular traffic, and solid and liquid waste generate by a site which has clearly negative environmental consequences far exceeding the occasional plastic bag that ends up in Four Mile Run. Developers should pay for development including mitigating the impact of development on the environment and being assessed hefty capital charges for facilities like the Beaver pond that capture and filter runoff and the enormously costly expansion of wastewater treatment facilities near the mouth of Four Mile Run.

        • Wilson Blvd Express

          The few places where that has occured along Four mile run there have been new containment ponds built. Is there a specific location/project that you are thinking of?

  • Jason S

    Of course the money will go to some fund, then the money that went to that fund will just go into some dumb pet project. That’s how these things work. We do need to cut down on litter, but that nickel won’t really make a change to the behaviour of rude people, they will still litter.

  • V Dizzle

    For now on, all shopping bags must be made of chromium, except for doggie bags..that would be stupid.

  • Ben

    I like how the commenters here completely ignore the fact that the DC bag tax has been a huge success in cutting the number of plastic bags found in the Anacostia. People respond to incentives, it’s a simple concept. In order to get rid of a negative externality, you put a tax on it. $0.05 is not that much.

    • Lola


    • Jason S

      Such as penalties for littering, which is a problem larger than the bags themselves. Littering should be an automatic 4 hours of cleanup service. That would be a huge headache, I know, and it would hold the individuals who are littering accountable, which is bad.

      • Runaway Train

        Catching someone in the act of littering is a difficult task, so to argue that enforcing the littering penalties is a better alternative doesn’t convince me.

        • Jason S

          It’s difficult to catch people in a lot of crimes, but we don’t just ignore it.

    • Burger

      of course, most of the people skip getting a bag are the lunch time crowd. How big of a group is that in Arlington vis-a-vis DC.

  • krissyarl

    i’m curious as to how this would work at the self-checkout lines where you bag your own groceries? honor system? stop having bags available at that line?

    • Nick

      krissyarl, self checkouts at the markets I’ve been to in DC use the honor system. Before you pay, it asks you how many bags you used. There’s a “I brought my own bags/I used zero bags” option.

  • Texas Wahoo

    “Arlington’s Del. Adam Ebbin says he plans on introducing a bill that would impose a $0.05 fee on paper and plastic shopping bags, much like the current fee in place in the District.”

    Are paper bags taxed in DC? If so, why did all of the lunch places switch from plastic to paper and why am I not charged for the bags?

    • JW

      Paper bags are supposed to be taxed. If your lunch place isn’t charging the tax for paper bags they are not in compliance with the law.

      • Wilson Blvd Express

        Why? The paper bags are biodegradable in a month or less. Folks take some things too far.

        • Texas Wahoo

          But how many people actually compost the bags? Most people just throw them in the trash and they get put in a dry landfill where they will take decades to degrade.

          • Let’s Be Free

            Paper and plastic bags discarded into Arlington’s general trash stream are burned along with other waste in the Covant waste-to-enerrgy plant on Eisenhower in Alexandria next to the UPS sorting center.

    • rft

      Taxing both equally certainly won’t shift people away from plastic towards paper, except to the extent a paper bag holds more than plastic. If the concern was plastic bags in the river, you’d think they want people to shift to paper by taxing plastic more heavily.

    • AJ

      i was wondering about the paper bag thing as well… if this goes into effect, i’m going to be seriously irritated – i always get paper bags, and i use them to bag my recycling. i can’t imagine paper bags are a huge environmental problem, although i could be wrong.

      so… where’s the nearest harris teeter outside of arlington?

      • Wilson Blvd Express

        Tysons Corner

  • SamsontheCat

    “Durable, reusable plastic bags and bags used for ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, leftover restaurant food, newspapers, dry cleaning and prescription drugs are exempt from the fee.”

    Brilliant! Now when you go to the store just make sure to ask that they put your ice cream in one bag, your meat in another, fish in another, and presecriptions in another, then fill in around them with the rest of your groceries. That way you’ll get 4 bags when you normally would have only taken 2. And better yet, they will all be made more “durable,” meaning thicker plastic so that’s always a plus for the environment.

    • AJ

      not taxing newspaper bags is ridiculous. when i had a subscription, the number of plastic bags that accumulated was absurd. and aside from using them to cover your hands and arms when you’re weeding out poison ivy, they’re not good for much.

  • DT

    When in doubt, tax a problem to make it go away.

  • Runaway Train

    From the Washington Post about the DC bag tax-

    “In its first assessment of how the new law is working, the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue estimated that food and grocery establishments gave out about 3 million bags in January. Before the bag tax took effect Jan. 1, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer had said that about 22.5 million bags were being issued each month in 2009” (Craig, March 30, 2010).

    As someone that lives along Four Mile Run, I completely support the tax on plastic bags. The amount of plastic bottles and plastic bags on the banks is discouraging. Reduce the # of bags handed out, reduce the amount of bags that end up being littered.
    I have a difficult time considering the remarks against the ban because of the statistics. For the argueaddicts that post remarks like “Dumb” and “I hope this fails miserably” try offering a constructive thought that contributes to the solution if you don’t agree.

    • Jason S

      If you care, have you gone out to clean it up? Or do you just like the idea of caring?

      • CrystalCity’er

        And you, Sir, seem to like the idea of being a contrarian.

      • Runaway Train

        When I walk my dog (which is often along Four Mile Run) and come across a littered plastic bag, (2-4 times a week) I use it to pick up other litter until I get to a trash can.

  • SamsontheCat

    I wonder how the Harris Teeter right by Four Mile Run feels about this when a few feet away people can load up on bags at the Shoppers at Potomac Yard.

  • TGEoA


  • LS

    There’s also one in Potomac Yard. It’s right on the border, but I’m pretty sure it’s in Alexandria, so as long as they don’t jump on the bag tax wagon, too…

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