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Plastic bag tax could raise over $1M for Fairfax County in first year

A plastic grocery bag (via Christopher Vega/Unsplash)

Fairfax County is on track to bring in more than $1 million in revenue from the first year of its plastic bag tax.

In the first five months after the tax took effect on Jan. 1, the county government received over $500,000, the Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination said in a memo to the Board of Supervisors.

That’s even with retailers allowed to retain two out of every five cents collected on each disposable plastic bag they distribute in 2022, a provision intended to offset the costs of transitioning away from plastic for businesses.

The OEEC projects that the tax will generate $1.2 million for the county over its inaugural year.

“Revenue is likely to fluctuate in the first few years of implementation,” OEEC Director Kambiz Agazi wrote to the board, noting that the amount of the tax retained by retailers will drop to one cent on Jan. 1, 2023. “…As has been observed in other jurisdictions with a plastic bag tax, over the long term, tax revenue is likely to trend downward as consumers begin reducing their use of disposable plastic bags.”

The revenue that the county has “regrettably” collected so far suggests many community members haven’t gotten into the habit yet of bringing their own bags to grocery stores and other businesses, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck observed yesterday (Tuesday) at the end of the board’s environmental committee meeting.

By a matter of days, Fairfax County became the first locality in Northern Virginia to adopt a plastic bag tax in September. The 5-cent levy was enabled by a 2020 state law and is supposed to encourage people to use more sustainable alternatives.

Under the law, revenue can be used to support educational programs, clean up pollution and litter, and provide reusable bags to people who receive federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food benefits.

In his memo, Agazi proposes allocating $511,000 already accrued from the tax to existing county programs, including:

The plan also designates funding for technology that collects litter in county waterways, gloves and other materials for volunteer stream cleanups, and reusable bags for SNAP and WIC recipients, food pantries, and farmers’ markets.

For future beneficiaries, staff proposed having a formal process where county agencies apply for funding. A project selection committee would prioritize the submitted projects, which would then be reviewed by the county’s chief financial officer and Department of Management and Budget.

In addition to meeting the state criteria for the plastic bag tax, the projects would have to be based in the county or part of a regional initiative that directly benefits the county and scheduled to start in the same year that money is requested. They also can’t require new, permanent staff positions, be part of the capital improvement program, or have other sources of funding.

“This is an opportunity for us to repurpose those funds, if you will, to hopefully make a difference in our environmental management,” Storck said.

Photo via Christopher Vega/Unsplash

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