SUMMARY OF PLASTIC BAG TAX
Effective January 1, 2022, disposable plastic bags provided at point of sale to consumers at grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores in Fairfax County are subject to a five-cent tax. To avoid the tax, consumers may use reusable shopping bags. Paper bags are not subject to the five-cent tax, although certain retailers may have their own fees for paper bags.
Several neighboring jurisdictions, including Arlington County, Loudoun County, the City of Alexandria and the City of Falls Church have also enacted a disposable plastic bag tax. To learn more about the plastic bag tax in our region, please visit the NOVA Plastic Solution regional website.
Revenue from this tax is being collected by the Virginia Department of Taxation and disbursed to each locality monthly. Fairfax County’s plastic bag tax ordinance tracks both enabling legislation passed in the 2020 session of the Virginia General Assembly, as well as guidelines adopted by the state Tax Commissioner. The legislation requires that the plastic bag tax be collected by the retailer at time of purchase, with revenue to be allocated toward:
- Environmental cleanup programs
- Pollution and litter mitigation programs
- Educational programs on environmental waste reduction
- Provision of reusable bags to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) benefits
The tax is being administered and enforced by the state Department of Taxation in the same manner as the Retail Sales and Use Tax. For questions about administration or enforcement, please contact Virginia Tax at (804) 367-8031.
PURPOSE OF PLASTIC BAG TAX
The purpose of the tax is to curb our collective use of disposable plastic bags, to reduce the amount of plastic waste in our local waterways, roadways, and open spaces and the damage it causes. Plastic pollution is a serious problem for ecological and health reasons. Plastics do not biodegrade like wood or other natural materials. Instead, plastic materials photodegrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces but never fully disappearing. Pieces of plastic both large and very, very small can wreak havoc on our natural resources and can find their way into our food and water.
Recognizing the impact plastic bags have on our environment, many retailers in our region and across the country are beginning to move away from the plastic bag. For instance, Wegmans recently announced it would be eliminating plastic bags companywide by the end of 2022 (as of 2021, plastic bags have already been eliminated from its Fairfax County locations). Doing so is expected to prevent approximately 245 billion single-use bags from going into circulation each year.
Wegmans joins other retailers in the region who have long supported the reduction of plastic bags. Mom’s Organic Market eliminated plastic bags from its stores in 2005, while Whole Foods followed in 2008. Retailers like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club are also known for using alternative packing materials at checkout. Similar decisions from these and other retailers can go a long way in addressing plastic pollution.
INFORMATION FOR RETAILERS
As of January 1, 2023, retailers may retain a one-cent discount from the tax collected on each disposable plastic bag. The tax is being collected, administered, and enforced by the state Department of Taxation in the same manner as the Retail Sales and Use Tax. For questions about administration and enforcement, please consult the official guidelines and Tax Bulletin 11-9 at Virginia Tax. Retailers may also call the Virginia Tax Business Customer Service line at (804) 367-8037.
To spread awareness about the tax at point of sale, retailers may use the following flyers or point of sale stickers:
INFORMATION ON PLASTIC BAG TAX REVENUE
In its first year of implementation, between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022, the bag tax generated about $2.3 million in revenue. Information on revenue generated by the bag tax in calendar year 2023 will be added once available.
Projects and revenue allocated to date can be explored in the following chart.
Projects for funding are identified through a biannual (twice yearly) selection process open to county departments and contributary agencies and updates on revenue allocations are made to the county’s Board of Supervisors.