Press Club
Trees in Arlington (staff photo)

A new program seeks to increase equity in Arlington by planting more trees in certain neighborhoods.

The local non-profit EcoAction Arlington announced that it’s starting the “Tree Canopy Equity Program” with the goal of raising $1.5 million to fund planting at least 2,500 trees over the next five years in local neighborhoods that have too few.

Insufficient tree canopy is closely tied to heat and temperature increases. The reason certain areas of Arlington are hotter than others, like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, is due in part to lack of trees, recent data shows.

“The neighborhoods most impacted by insufficient tree cover are communities with higher-than-average minority populations and communities with people living in poverty,” EcoAction Arlington said a press release. “The lack of trees has a real-world impact that can lead to poor physical and mental health outcomes, higher utility costs, and a lower quality of life.”

The ten civic associations and neighborhoods that the program will work with are below.

  • Arlington View
  • Aurora Highlands
  • Buckingham
  • Columbia Heights
  • Glebewood
  • Green Valley
  • John M. Langston Citizens Association (Halls Hill/High View Park)
  • Long Branch Creek
  • Penrose
  • Radnor/Fort Myer Heights

The current levels of tree cover in those neighborhoods is between 17% and 33%, according to EcoAction Arlington.

“The goal is to radically increase tree planting in the neighborhoods with the lowest tree cover to align with the average for other Arlington communities of approximately 40 percent,” the press release says.

EcoAction Arlington executive director Elenor Hodges tells ARLnow that that the group has already begun to plant more trees. That includes American hornbeams, pin oaks, river birch, sugarberry, American sycamore, swamp white oak, and American linden.

The program needs about $150,000 a year to cover operations, marketing, staffing, and the actual planting of trees, Hodges says, with each tree costing about $500 to plant.

Amazon, an inaugural sponsor, has already contributed $50,000. The goal is to raise $1.5 million from other corporate and individual donors, while also obtaining funding from Arlington’s existing Tree Canopy Fund Program. This initiative allows neighborhood groups, owners of private property and developments, and places of worship to apply to have native plants or trees planted on their property.

Residents in neighborhoods lacking sufficient tree canopy note that the the problem is often tied to the construction of large, new homes and not prioritizing trees while building.

“As we lose trees due to infill development of large homes on lots in our neighborhood, they need to be replaced and even expanded,” John M. Langston Citizens Association president Wilma Jones tells ARLnow. “We all know that trees give off oxygen and they reduce stormwater runoff.

Natasha Atkins has been a resident of Aurora Highlands for nearly four decades and has “watched with alarm” the number of trees lost to homebuilding projects.

“With the County’s zoning code, requiring only very small setbacks for residential housing, it is questionable whether there will be much of a tree canopy in the future in the single-family neighborhoods that are being redeveloped,” she says. “Trees are an afterthought in planning and zoning. They should really be a driver.”

Hodges concedes that planting 2,500 more trees over the next five years will only “make a dent” and it will take tens of thousands of trees for all these neighborhoods to reach the 40% tree canopy threshold.

But the Tree Canopy Equity Program is just as much about what one can do today as what one can do tomorrow, says Hodges.

“It’s about behavioral change and teaching people about the importance of having a sufficient tree canopy in Arlington,” she said.

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The most scorching parts of Arlington are along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Reagan National Airport, according to a new study.

On a hot day last July, volunteers and Marymount University research students and staff recorded temperatures at morning, afternoon and evening throughout the county as part of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges’ Heat Watch Campaign. Residents across the Commonwealth also contributed to the statewide data collection effort.

That data has since been compiled into heat maps, released this week, that cover more than 300 square miles of Virginia. Environmentalists say this information is helpful for targeting solutions to heat: planting more trees where possible and, where that is not possible, adding amenities like community gardens and planted walls.

Although Arlington County is compact, temperatures varied by up to 7 degrees depending on location. The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, for example, recorded a temperature of 94.8 degrees at 3 p.m., and less than two miles away, neighborhoods near the Potomac Overlook Regional Park clocked in at 87.8 degrees.

Temperatures along Arlington’s roadways last July (via the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges)

Marymount University assistant biology professor Susan Agolini says highly populated areas like Ballston and Clarendon are often hotter because concrete and asphalt absorb heat and radiate it back into the environment, while the North Arlington neighborhoods closest to the Potomac River have trees and gardens to soak up that sunshine.

“I do not think there were any surprises here with regard to what areas were hotter,” Agolini said. “We know that locations with a lot of pavement and cement are going to be hotter than areas with a lot of trees and green space. The question is what do we do about that?”

Agolini says she will bring this data to conversations with county officials about urban planning and cooling solutions, such as planting trees and incentivizing the creation of community gardens around buildings and on their rooftops.

For example, 23% of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association had tree canopy compared to 74% of the Bellevue Forest Civic Association, according to the most recent county tree canopy data, from 2016.

Heat maps of Arlington at different times of the day (via the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges)

“I find it really compelling that the benefits of and need for increased space for urban agriculture could actually serve multiple purposes,” Agolini said. “It would not only provide Arlington residents with the physical and mental health benefits of growing their own food, but it could also have the added benefit of decreasing the impact of heat disparities throughout the county.”

Elenor Hodges — the executive director of the community organization promoting environmental stewardship, EcoAction Arlington — helped collect temperature data last summer. She says the data provide “another way of looking at a known issue.”

And the solution — more trees and plantings — has benefits that bleed into other environmental and public health goals, she said.

“If you’re building in an area and you can think about having it be as green and plant-based green as possible then that makes the space cooler,” she said. “You can be happier in this space, healthier, and it helps with carbon and it reduces stormwater runoff.”

Hodges said EcoAction Arlington would like to see this data inform developments currently going through the county review processes so that the projects can reduce, rather than contribute to, Arlington’s heat zones.

This includes planting walls of plants, blending indoor and outdoor spaces, and adding trees and plantings to grass-covered parks, as grass doesn’t absorb as much heat.

The organization, which oversees a county program that plants trees on private property through developer contributions, will be launching a campaign to encourage planting in neighborhoods with less tree canopy that also have higher rates of poverty and substantial non-white populations.

For example, tree canopy levels are under 30% in the Arlington View, Buckingham and Green Valley neighborhoods, she said.

“Those are neighborhoods we are going to be looking at more carefully,” Hodges said.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn.

Very good boys (and girls) can now eat food that’s good for the planet, from a Clarendon-based company called Chippin.

It all started when founder Haley Russell gave her goldendoodle a cricket to eat, and her dog enjoyed it.

“That initiated the journey of looking at how might we be able to give all-natural alternative protein sources to nourish four-legged family members and meet this totally unaddressed need, which is for pet parents to be able to give them great nutrition while aligning purchases the way they buy other things” — that is, with a focus on environmental impact, she tells ARLnow.

The company sells dog treats and dog food made from crickets, an invasive species of fish and a CO2-sucking algae called spirulina. Russell says Chippin enjoyed a successful 2021: it launched new products and hit the shelves of big-box pet supply store Petco, which aims to have sustainable food companies comprise half of the food brands it offers by 2025.

And this year, she’s focused on increasing distribution and finding new retail and wholesale partnerships. While Russell couldn’t divulge any more details, she said Chippin is looking to respond to the tremendous demand for cat food products later in 2022.

U.S. pets are the fifth-largest global meat consumers, according to Russell, so how pet owners choose to feed their companion animals has a significant impact on the environment. Production of traditional protein sources such as chicken, beef and pork releases methane and CO2 emissions, leads to water overconsumption and degrades water and air quality, among other consequences, she noted.

Haley Russell, founder of Chippin (courtesy photo)

But when Russell began looking for alternatives, she says she found “nothing on the market that was delivering on what I wanted: a high-quality, eco-friendly, tasty product.”

Her dog’s eager consumption of a cricket was not the only source of inspiration for Chippin. Russell, a graduate of Northwestern University, says she studied economics and global health and has always been interested in how food could be “an agent for change for health and the environment.”

Her years in the Great Lakes region prompted her to see if silver carp — an invasive species threatening the $7 billion Great Lakes fishing economy — could become another source of food for dogs. Her hunch was right.

“We created the first-of-its-kind dog food that solves for providing high-quality nutrition with a protein for dogs with allergies to beef and chicken and helps restore biodiversity in the Great Lakes while fishing for a fish we need to fish for,” she said.

Every product is vetted by veterinarians and researchers at the University of Illinois, who ensure these “planet-friendly proteins” are healthy and biologically appropriate for dogs, she said. They’re also more digestible than chicken.

The Maryland native says Clarendon, where she also lives, is the paw-fect fit for Chippin, which is “seeking to be agents for change in taking climate action in an industry that has totally been under-addressed.”

“It’s dog-friendly neighborhood and my team really enjoys engaging with the vibrant community of pet parents here,” she said.

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Today (Friday) marks the last day lawmakers can file legislation to be considered in the 2022 session.

Several of the bills Arlington County legislators introduced align with County Board priorities — from making permanent electronic participation in public meetings to increasing state funding for affordable housing and including race and ethnicity on driver’s licenses.

They’ve also introduced legislation to address issues that came up in the community last year.

After residents exposed poor living conditions at the Serrano Apartments to ARLnow, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49) pre-filed a handful of bills aimed at strengthening tenant protections. Lopez also appears to have taken inspiration from the Advanced Towing saga with a bill that would make tow truck driver violations subject to the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

Here’s a roundup of some other bills Arlington’s lawmakers put forward.

Policing

  • Independent policing auditor: This bill, House Bill 670, would allow Arlington County to appoint an independent policing auditor who will support the law enforcement Community Oversight Board that was created out of the Police Practices Group recommendations. Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) is chief patron of the bill.
  • Law-enforcement officers; conduct of investigation: HB 870, which Lopez introduced, would require an officer who was involved in a shooting to be interviewed within 24 hours of the incident.

Environmental issues

  • Beverage container deposit and redemption program: HB 826, introduced by Hope, would establish a beverage container deposit, refund and redemption program involving distributors, retailers and consumers. There would be an advisory committee, required reporting and civil and criminal penalties for violations.
  • Packaging Stewardship Program and Fund: The bill, HB 918, would allow the state Department of Environmental Quality to charge sellers in the commonwealth a fee for the amount of packaging their products use and if they’re easily recyclable. Those fees would be paid into a fund and used to reimburse participating localities for expenses related to recycling, invest in recycling infrastructure and education and pay the program’s administrative costs. Lopez introduced the bill.
  • Parking of vehicles; electric vehicle charging spots; civil penalties: Senate Bill 278 prohibits a person from parking non-electric vehicles in electric vehicle charging spots. It sets a civil penalty between $100 and $250 with the possibility the vehicle is towed or impounded. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) introduced the bill.
  • Driving Decarbonization Program and Fund. This legislation, HB 351, would establish a program and a fund that would assist developers with non-utility costs associated with installation of electric vehicle charging stations. It was introduced by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48).

Health

  • Insurance; paid family leave: SB 15, introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31), would establish paid family leave as a class of insurance that would pay for the income an employee loses after the birth of a child or because the employee is caring for a child or family member.
  • Hospitals; financial assistance for uninsured patient, payment plans: This bill, SB 201, requires hospitals to screen every uninsured patient, determine if they’re eligible for financial assistance under the hospital’s plan and create a payment plan. The bill also prohibits certain collection actions. Favola introduced the bill.

Rights

  • Constitutional amendment; marriage; fundamental right to marry, same-sex marriage prohibition: This constitutional amendment, SJ 5, would repeal the constitutional provision defining marriage as only a union between one man and one woman as well as the related provisions that are no longer valid as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015. Ebbin introduced the amendment.
  • Absentee voting; verification by social security or driver’s license number: SB 273, introduced by Ebbin, would make optional the current absentee ballot witness signature requirement. It would give the voter the option to provide either the last four digits of their social security number or the voter’s valid Virginia driver’s license number instead.
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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1812 N. Moore Street in Rosslyn.

A local agriculture-technology company is making it possible for people to buy pre-packaged goods based on how much carbon dioxide they save from entering the atmosphere.

EarthOptics, a startup with a significant Crystal City presence at 2461 S. Clark Street, uses artificial-intelligence to help farmers cheaply and efficiently map, report and verify how much carbon their farm land absorbs through the natural process of sequestration. This way, they can cash in on private- and public-sector incentives related to climate change mitigation.

Now, EarthOptics is using that data to let consumers support these farms more directly. With the labeling initiative, folks will be able to choose to buy products from food and beverage companies that source their ingredients from carbon-sequestering farms.

Consumers can expect to see the new label on certain products, especially from smaller food companies, in their grocery stores in 2023. The timeline will vary some depending on the growing season of particular crops.

“Consumers will be able to look at our Soil Carbon Project label and appreciate that the corn used to make their cornflakes took one pound of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and kept it in the soil, or the grain used to produce a six-pack of beer took 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” EarthOptics CEO Lars Dyrud said in a statement.

EarthOptics has already begun the verification process with some interested growers.

The CEO says most soil carbon-mapping methods are time-intensive and expensive, and only yield estimates. That makes it harder for farmers and the packaged goods companies that buy their crops to benefit financially from carbon sequestration.

EarthOptics technology lowers the cost and improves the accuracy of the measurements, making it possible to launch a labeling system, he says.

“For a labeling initiative to be successful, it needs to be accurate and trustworthy,” Dyrud said. “Measuring soil carbon retention for food and other consumer goods historically has been a costly and time-intensive endeavor. What we’ve been able to do at EarthOptics is move the soil carbon needle from estimation to accurate, verifiable measurements.”

Doing so has a host of benefits, Dyrud previously told ARLnow. Farmers are able to contribute to climate-change mitigation through carbon credit marketplaces, where large corporations such as Google or Etsy offset their carbon footprint by supporting businesses that sequester the greenhouse gas.

EarthOptics engineers and researchers are also tinkering with the technology so that it can map more soil properties, such as nutrient and moisture levels, which would combat climate change while making food tastier and more nutritious.

The Earth’s soil naturally sequesters carbon but some human activity — particularly farming — can stymie that natural process. When the soil is too hard or tilled too often, the carbon can’t seep into the ground and instead is released into the atmosphere, where it can remain for thousands of years.

While certain agricultural practices contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, others can reduce them. Scientists estimate that soils, particularly farm soils, could sequester more than a billion tons of additional carbon each year, according to EarthOptics.

EarthOptics’ TillMapper helps farmers decide if, when, where and how deep to till (courtesy photo)
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(Updated at 10:50 a.m.) A three-story, county-owned group home in Douglas Park is set for demolition early next year.

In its place, Arlington County will oversee the construction of an environmentally friendly home for six adults with disabilities, at a total cost of more than $5 million.

Built in 1924, the house at 1212 S. Irving Street has undergone several renovations and has operated as a group home since the mid-1970s, according to a county report. Today, the 3,800-square foot, seven-bedroom house accommodates five individuals.

But the county says the house needs to be rebuilt.

“This existing residence is aged and in deteriorating condition and will be demolished and replaced with a new two-story family home of approximately 3,000 [square feet],” according to the project page.

The $4 million construction contract for the net-zero group home was approved by the County Board in October. Demolition could begin in January 2022, as could the installation of a geothermal well field that will power the home’s heating and cooling systems, says Claudia Pors, a Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman.

“Right now the contractor (MCN Build) doesn’t want to begin demolition of the current structure until they have materials to build the new home, and demolition isn’t anticipated to begin for another 6-8 weeks,” she said.

The new home will have six bedrooms, including accessible bathrooms and closets, an area for staff and accessible communal living spaces with built-in furnishings and appliances, per the county report. It will be equipped with various audio-visual technologies to support individuals with complex medical support needs.

“Upon completion, the new home will provide a primary and permanent residence for up to six adults with developmental disabilities,” the report said. “It will be constructed to meet the changing needs of the residents across their lifespans, regardless of physical and behavioral support needs.”

Arlington’s Department of Human Services will operate and maintain the house, while a contracted residential provider will have the primary responsibility for caring for residents.

The new 1212 S. Irving Street will be a net-zero energy residence, meaning it generates as much energy as it consumes. It will also be the county’s first Viridiant Net-Zero certified building, Pors said.

“Some of the construction features include an airtight building envelope and high-performance windows and doors that prevent outdoor air from coming in, or loss of conditioned air; less than 50% of impervious area on the property, so stormwater can be absorbed by the ground naturally; and landscaping with non-invasive species,” she said.

Solar panels and geothermal systems will power the building, while energy recovery ventilators will recover heat or cold air, she said. The interior will also feature LED lighting, low-flow plumbing features and Energy Star appliances.

The project is $900,000 over budget, according to the report.

“The total project budget for the 1212 S. Irving St. Group Home project is $5,205,735,” the report says. “This amount is $900,000 over budget, due to the current unstable market conditions, longer construction duration from lagging supply deliveries, and the addition of a sixth bedroom and a kitchenette to satisfy DHS current programming requirements. The construction cost was over a $1 million more than the independent cost estimate received in November 2020.”

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With the construction of Amazon’s HQ2, a 45-year-old planning document guiding development in Pentagon City has reached the end of its useful life.

Now, Arlington County has to lay out a vision for the next 20 years of development. According to the most recent draft of the Pentagon City Planning Study, that will include a significant amount of redevelopment and infill development, with an emphasis on residential buildings. Two other priorities are increased green spaces and multimodal transportation upgrades.

The year-plus planning effort is set to wrap up later this fall, and currently, county planners are engaging with the community about their second draft plan.

Per the draft, Pentagon City could — if developers follow through — see about nine significant redevelopment projects over the next two decades.

“We have tried to continue to engage to get an understanding of what they’re thinking,” said Kathleen Onufer, of architecture firm Goody Clancy, which worked with the county on the plan. “The years are based on conversation with the property owners and their sense of interest.”

Pentagon City Planning Study Area (via Arlington County)

RiverHouse, one of the largest housing complexes in the D.C. area, is listed as having significant development potential. That’s why county planners included the apartments in the study, despite them being outside the document’s core planning area.

Adding more density to RiverHouse and its expanse of surface parking lots and green space — already a hot topic — prompted a strong reaction from attendees of an open house last night (Tuesday). A number of attendees expressed disapproval for the impact they believed it would have on property values, while a few were more supportive.

“There is plenty of room to build out mid- and high-rises west [on] Columbia Pike [and] south on Richmond Highway, Potomac Yard, and Arlandria,” former RiverHouse resident and attendee Tina Ghiladi said. “To think RiverHouse should absorb the majority of all this density is being expedient. We’re not being NIMBYs. We understand the need for additional housing, we just want height limits.”

After the meeting, Aurora Highlands Civic Association member Ben D’Avanzo told ARLnow he supports turning the tracts of parking spaces into additional housing.

“RiverHouse is a sensitive area, being both a transition to lower density neighbors and one of the somewhat affordable rental housing [options] available” in the area, he said. “Yet, as housing values and rents skyrocket, there are wide swaths of surface parking just blocks from the Metro that do not represent a livable version of our neighborhood. I think the Pentagon City final plan should, accounting for more detail needed on streetscape, open space, schools and other community needs, have a balance of new housing types at RiverHouse, with townhouses at the southern end and more density at the northern [end].”

Overall, the draft plan divides potential redevelopment opportunities into five phases, ranging between two and five years.

“Reality is not that convenient and neat, but it gives you a sense [of] what we can expect if these sites actually redevelop,” said the lead county planner on the project, Matt Mattauszek. “That’s not in our control, but at least organizing it this way gives people a sense of what’s more likely to redevelop sooner rather than later, and what that means for the addition of units and the impact on schools.”

The current and proposed mix of land-use in Pentagon City (via Arlington County)

The phases are as follows below.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

A local agricultural technology company is offering tools to help industrial farmers grow food more sustainably and fight climate change.

EarthOptics, a startup with a significant Crystal City presence at 2461 S. Clark Street, developed a product that impressed investors enough that it led to a $10.3 million Series A funding round.

Its product uses technology to imitate a natural process. Every year, the Earth’s terrestrial surfaces and oceans absorb billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere. Industrial farmlands, however, release more carbon into the atmosphere than they trap, contributing to climate change.

Over the last 50 years, farming has led to 130 billion tons of carbon evaporating from the soil, EarthOptics CEO Lars Dyrud said. But scientists estimate about or 60-70 billion tons could be returned to soil through simple changes such as tilling fields more effectively. That represents five years’ worth of human carbon emissions, he says.

“It’s a win-win for everybody: It takes carbon out of the atmosphere, makes the soil more fertile and makes the food grown there more nutritious,” he said.

EarthOptics has two tools that use Artificial Intelligence to help farmers sequester more carbon in the soil while improving yields and food quality, while trimming costs.

“We’ve taken 130 billion tons of carbon out of the soil through our agricultural practices,” Dyrud said. “It seems fairly straightforward that we can put it back… We all have to eat anyway — if we can make eating part of the solution that seems like a pretty exciting prospect.”

EarthOptics’ TillMapper helps farmers decide if, when, where and how deep to till (courtesy photo)

The first product to launch maps how dense the soil is. Due to heavy rains and machinery, soil gets compacted, making it harder for plants to grow. In response, farmers till the land to loosen it, releasing carbon. The map allows farmers to till only where needed and retain more carbon.

This year, EarthOptics launched a tool that measures how much carbon is sequestered so that farmers can be reimbursed through carbon credits for carbon-storing practices. The credits are paid for by large companies looking to offset their carbon emissions, such as Google.

Dyrud said the product makes participation cost-effective for farmers. Traditionally, farmers have to take dozens of soil samples and send them to a lab for testing. This process tends to eat up most of the money they make.

Instead, EarthOptics combines samples and AI sensors to map out carbon levels across the site using fewer samples.

“We’re the only ones that still combine traditional measurements, which is where accuracy and trust comes from, with machine learning to dramatically lower costs,” he said.

EarthOptics’ patented machine-learning system (courtesy photo)

That piqued the interest of investment groups such as Leaps by Bayer, the venture arm of German pharmaceutical company Bayer, as well as other firms, including Alexandria-based Route 66 Ventures. With the backing, Dyrud said EarthOptics will scale up its existing products and launch new technologies that measure nutrient levels, which could lower fertilization and irrigation costs.

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Arlington County will begin imposing a 5-cent plastic bag tax on Jan. 1 of next year.

The Arlington County Board adopted the tax during its public hearing on Saturday — the same day that the Alexandria City Council enacted the tax as well. These votes come on the heels of Fairfax County, which adopted the tax last Tuesday.

Effective Jan. 1, 2022, all three jurisdictions will tax plastic bags from grocery stores, convenience shops and drugstores. The county said in a press release that it’s been working with Alexandria, Fairfax and a regional waste management board to make sure all three localities have similar outreach and education efforts and timelines for rolling out the tax.

“Arlington is proud to take this step to reduce plastic bag waste in our community and to do so with our regional partners,” said Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in a statement. “We have long sought the legal authority for this small fee as a way to protect our environment and become a more sustainable community. We look forward to working with residents and neighbors on implementation.”

Until Jan. 1, 2023, retailers can keep two of the five cents collected for each plastic bag. After that date, retailers and keep one cent per bag.

Revenue can be used to offset environmental cleanup, educational programs around reducing waste and mitigating pollution, or providing reusable bags to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and recipients of Women, Infants, and Children Program, known as WIC, benefits.

The county is considering distributing reusable bags at public facilities, the Department of Human Services, affordable housing complexes and farmers markets.

“This is not high-cost and it could be big-impact,” said Deputy County Manager Michelle Cowan.

The tax will not apply to restaurants, farmers markets, clothing stores, Virginia ABC stores and other alcoholic beverage retailers. Bags for wrapping meat, holding produce, protecting dry cleaning and packages of garbage and pet waste bags are also exempt.

“I don’t want to lose sight of what more the Commonwealth can do. It’s not just including the entities that are currently exempt from this go-round, but thinking about this more broadly,” County Board member Christian Dorsey said during the meeting. “Communities that have more successfully changed behavior, which is what this is ultimately getting at… ones that have been most effective have not just looked at plastics, they’ve looked at all bags at the point of sale.”

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The Arlington County Board is set to vote on adopting a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic shopping bags at its meeting next week.

Last March, the Virginia General Assembly gave municipalities the option to levy the tax with revenues earmarked for local environmental education and cleanup. The County Board discussed enacting a tax last year, but put it off over concerns about how this would financially impact low-income residents during the pandemic.

Now, the county is looking to tax plastic bags issued at grocery, convenience and drug store checkouts to help “reduce pollution and protect natural landscapes.” Similar efforts are underway in Alexandria and Fairfax County, meaning much of Northern Virginia could see a tax in effect by January 2022, the county said in a press release.

“The tax gives shoppers an incentive to bring their own reusable totes rather than accept single-use disposable plastic that can wind up polluting local waterways or simply tossed in with trash destined for incinerators and landfills,” it said.

Currently, Arlington’s residential recycling program does not accept plastic bags because they can damage sorting equipment, the county said. Many large supermarkets do offer bag bag drop-off bins, and some retailers in Arlington have given shoppers a checkout discount for using reusable bags.

Exempt from the tax will be: paper bags; task-specific bags, like those used for holding meat and seafood, vegetables and protecting dry cleaning; and bags that are products for purchase, like trash and pet waste bags.

Retailers who collect the tax can keep two cents per bag for the next two calendar years, and then one cent per bag in subsequent years. Collection is overseen by the state Department of Taxation, which then distributes revenues for localities to administer.

The county will develop strategies to address the equity impacts of this proposed change, Department of Environmental Services spokesman Peter Golkin tells ARLnow.

“We are pleased that the legislation allows proceeds of the tax to fund the purchase of reusable bags for WIC and SNAP program beneficiaries and we anticipate expanding that to others in our community,” he said.

This fall, the county will embark on an education campaign to help residents understand the program and its environmental benefits.

When the County Board last discussed the plastic bag tax in October 2020, staff had drafted a timeline for implementing it by summer of 2021. But Board members cautioned moving too quickly and not considering the unintended consequences on those who are vulnerable and low-income — especially during the pandemic.

“The most vulnerable suffer the most from pollution and will suffer the most when we try to clean it up,” Board Chair Libby Garvey said at the time. “We’re going to try and do it right and be aware of the pitfalls, and there are a lot.”

The public will be able to comment on the proposed tax at next Saturday’s meeting, before the Board vote.

Photo by Morgan Vander Hart on Unsplash

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If Arlington County collects your yard waste, you can now add food scraps to your green organics cart starting this week.

This collection service, which started on Monday, is now part of the county’s regular weekly trash, recycling and yard waste collection routes. Food scraps and yard waste will be delivered together to a professional composting facility in Prince William County.

“Food scrap collection represents years of planning and organization by County staff and members of the community, guided by the Solid Waste Bureau,” according to the Department of Environmental Services. “The new program makes Arlington one of the first localities in the nation to gather residential food waste as a part of standard curbside services.”

Eligible residents received a small, beige countertop food caddy — which, up until now, some have used as coolers — and a set of compostable bags last month. The county distributed the supplies so folks can store scraps inside and bring filled bags to their green carts.

DES recommends people keep the pail, lined with a compostable bag — available at Target, on Amazon and at grocery stores — on a kitchen counter. Just before one’s weekly trash pickup time, the food scraps should be bagged, put in the green cart and rolled out for collection.

Those who worry about odors or insects can keep the pail or scrap bag in the freezer or refrigerator. Other alternatives include storing scraps in Tupperware or bins with charcoal filters.

Residents can toss a wide range of materials that qualify as “food scraps” into their green carts: from apple and banana peels to meats, bones, coffee grounds and even greasy pizza boxes and used paper napkins. A user’s guide was distributed along with the countertop caddy, and is also posted on the county website.

What goes into the green yard waste carts (via Arlington County)

“The initiative marks another milestone in Arlington’s commitment to sustainability, diverting organic waste from incineration with regular trash,” the county said. “The compost generated will find its way into Arlington parks and community gardens and eventually individual yards, just as residents can pick up and order mulch for delivery from the County.”

Arlington is providing the service as part of its goal to divert 90% of waste from landfills and incinerators by 2038.

The county encourages residents who don’t receive weekly curbside collection to drop off their scraps at the Arlington County Trades Center in Shirlington (2700 S. Taylor Street), the Columbia Pike Farmers Market on Sundays, or MOM’s Organic Market (1901 N. Veitch Street). Residents who don’t get the county’s curbside collection service — which serves mostly single-family homes — can also email [email protected] for tips.

The new food scraps collection has even attracted entrepreneurs who are anticipating a stinky problem that they can solve.

Clarendon-based Bright Bins, a recently-launched waste bin cleaning business, is promoting its service as a way to “keep your bins clean and sanitized — and keep the rodents and pests away.”

“As opposed to using mild soap and a hose, our high-pressure 180-degree steam process sterilizes and deodorizes your organic bin, safeguarding it from attracting unpleasant visitors and ensuring you don’t dread the next time you open it,” said co-owner Ryan Miller.

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