Push for Plastic Bag Tax in Va.

December 13, 2012

A Virginia lawmaker is taking on plastic bags. Delegate Joe Morrissey (D-Highland Springs) has introduced a bill that would enact a $0.05 tax on plastic bags at grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores.

The idea of a bag tax is not new topic.

"We've heard it mentioned along the way," said Kim Miller, a manager at Reid Super-Save Market in Charlottesville. "We know some other states already charge for plastic."

Miller said nearly all shoppers at Reid choose plastic over paper.

"Plastic is more convenient for the customer, but it's also a cheaper expense for the retailer," said Miller. "It costs less than a paper bag to use. Most customers like it better because of its convenience."

Miller said about 10 percent of her customers opt to bring their own reusable bags. That's how Albemarle County resident Laurel Woodworth prefers to transport her items home.

Woodworth does a lot of work with streams and said she has seen firsthand the impact plastic bags can have on the environment.

"They fly around. They go into our storm drain systems. They clog up. They get caught up on branches in the streams and make a mess," Woodworth said. "Anything we can do to reduce the number that are out there in the first place can really help."

Charlottesville resident Tiffany Jones said, while she doesn't currently use cloth bags, she'd rather purchase reusable bags than get taxed every time she loads up on groceries.

"I need all the money I can to shop," said Jones. "It adds up."

There would be some exclusions to the tax. Durable, reusable plastic bags as well as bags used for ice cream, fish, meat, poultry, newspapers, dry cleaning, prescription drugs and leftover food from restaurants would all be exempt from the $0.05 tax.

Retailers would keep a penny of the tax or $0.02 if they had a customer bag credit program. Stores would also face fines if they did not collect and remit the tax money.

The money collected from the tax would help cleanup efforts for the Chesapeake Bay. All revenues would go to the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund.

Previous attempts to implement a tax on plastic bags in the Commonwealth have failed. If the legislature decides to pass the bill, the tax would go into effect July 1, 2014.

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