Plastic Bag Tax

The City of Alexandria will be considering an ordinance to impose a five-cent tax for disposable plastic bags offered at grocery stores, convenience stores, and drug stores. This tax would be charged for every bag provided at checkout. The proposed tax effective date is January 1 if adopted by the City Council.

Page updated on Sep 20, 2021 at 12:42 PM

Plastic Bag Tax

The City of Alexandria, along with Arlington and Fairfax Counties, have adopted a 5-cent per bag tax on disposable plastic bags from grocery, convenience, and drug stores. The tax will go into effect on January 1, 2022. 


Background

In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly adopted Virginia Code  58.1-1745 , which authorizes any county or city in Virginia to impose a tax of five cents per bag on disposable plastic bags provided to customers by convenience stores, drug stores, and grocery stores. On September 18, 2021, the Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted the Plastic Bag Tax Ordinance

The City has been working closely with the Northern Virginia Regional Waste Management Board (Waste Board), in an effort to align outreach, education, and common language for localities to ensure consistency and clarity. The City will be updating this webpage as engagement efforts continue with the public and the regulated entities.  


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is the City of Alexandria considering a tax for single-use plastic bags?

Lightweight plastic bags are commonly found in waterways as litter and remain as a pollutant. Wildlife commonly mistake plastic bags for food and also cause microscopic particles of broken down plastics to enter into the food chain. The City started discussions with the public regarding plastic bags as early as 2008. During the City's WasteSmart Strategic Plan and the Environmental Action Plan (EAP) stakeholder engagement process since 2017, the City of Alexandria residents voiced their concerns over single-use plastic from the public to see less environmental impact of plastic bags. A short-term action item was included in the final adopted WasteSmart and EAP plans, along with including the support for plastic bag levy in the  2019 and  2020 Legislative Packages.

Will this ban plastic bags?

No, this legislation is not a ban on plastic bags.

Does this tax apply to paper bags?

No, it only applies to plastic bags.

When would the tax take effect?

The tax will go into effect January 1, 2022. 

How much is the tax?

Five-cents ($0.05) tax would be imposed for each disposable plastic bag provided, whether or not provided free of charge, to a consumer of tangible personal property by regulated retailers.

Who are the regulated retailers?

According to the authorizing state code, regulated entities are “Grocery Stores, Convenience Stores, and Drugstores.” The state’s guidelines on definitions of these retailers are as followed:

  • “Grocery store” means an establishment that has an enclosed room in a permanent structure and that sells food and other items intended for human consumption, including a variety of ingredients commonly used in the preparation of meals. This definition does not include food banks, farmers markets, or mobile food units.
  • “Drugstore” means an establishment that sells medicines prepared by a licensed pharmacist pursuant to a prescription and other medicines and items for home and general use.
  • “Convenience store” means an establishment that (i) has an enclosed room in a permanent structure where stock is displayed and offered for sale and (ii) maintains an inventory of edible items intended for human consumption consisting of a variety of such items of the types normally sold in grocery stores. 
  • Larger retailers that contain a grocery store, a convenience store, or a drug store are subject to the tax. Such retailers shall collect the tax on all taxable plastic bags provided, regardless of the items sold. However, no store will be considered a convenience store solely because it offers a limited selection of snacks and beverages for sale at the point of sale. In order to be subject to the tax in a locality, a grocery store, convenience store, or drug store must maintain regular business hours at a fixed place of business in the locality.

Will retailers be allowed any discounts for administration of this tax?

To compensate dealers for the cost of collecting, accounting for, and remitting the tax, retailers are permitted to keep a portion of the tax collected. Regulated entities will be able to retain two cents for every five cents collected on each disposable plastic bag from when the tax goes into effect in the City through January 1, 2023. After January 1, 2023, this discount will decrease to one cent.

What will the collected taxes be used for?

The state code stipulates that all revenue collected shall be appropriated for the purposes of:

  • Environmental Cleanup;
  • Providing education programs designed to reduce environmental waste;
  • Mitigating pollution and litter; or
  • Providing reusable bags to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) benefits.

Are there exemptions to this tax?

The five-cent tax would not apply to the following bags:

  • Durable plastic bags, with handles, that are specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and that are at least four mils thick;
  • Plastic bags that are solely used to wrap, contain, or package ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, produce, unwrapped bulk food items, or perishable food items in order to avoid damage or contamination;
  • Plastic bags used to carry dry cleaning or prescription drugs; and
  • Multiple plastic bags sold in packages and intended for use as garbage, pet waste, or leaf removal bags.

Will the City provide reusable bags to those who cannot afford them?

The City will schedule distribution events to provide reusable bags to recipients of SNAP and WIC beneficiaries. More information will be provided on this website.

Will the City provide business owners guidance to transition to the effective tax date?

Outreach materials will be developed and made available on this website to help communicate the plastic bag tax.

How will the tax be administered?

The tax will be collected, administered, and enforced by the Virginia Tax Commissioner, in the same manner that the Retail Sales and Use Tax is administered. Following deductions from the retailer discount, and direct costs incurred by the Virginia Department of Taxation, remaining revenue will be distributed to the county at the end of each month.

Where can I find the State's Implementation Guidelines?

On September 1, 2021, the state has issued final implementation guidelines on the provisions of the plastic bag tax. The state's public comment period on these final guidelines will open on September 27, 2021 and close October 27, 2021. The planned effective date is October 28, 2021 on the state's final guidelines. City ordinance amendments may follow if the state Tax Commissioner issues any additional guidance regarding this law change if necessary. 

Additional Questions?

For additional questions or to provide feedback regarding the Plastic Bag Tax, please reach out to wastesmart@alexandriava.gov.


Public Engagement

Understanding and incorporating stakeholder feedback is an important element in the development of the City's ordinance. The City started discussions with the public regarding plastic bags since 2017, as part of the development and adoption of the City's 20-year WasteSmart Strategic Plan and the Environmental Action Plan (EAP). It was identified through the years of stakeholder engagement, the desire from the public to see less environmental impact of plastic bags. A short-term action item was included in the final adopted WasteSmart and EAP plans, along with including the support for plastic bag levy in the  2019 and  2020 Legislative Packages. A virtual information session was held on September 8, 2021 which included an opportunity for stakeholders to provide questions and feedback. A public hearing on the Plastic Bag Tax also took place on September 18, 2021.


Engagement with the Regulated Entities

In partnership with the Waste Board, the City sent a letter to approximately 115 grocery stores, drug stores, and convenience stores requesting feedback from impacted regulated communities. Feedback was requested regarding current plastic bag practices, what they anticipate as challenges with implementation of a plastic bag tax, and what resources would be helpful to communicate the plastic bag fee to their customers and staff. Additional letters were sent to the regulated entities to notify retailers on the virtual information session on September 8, 2021. 


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