The Town of Middleburg’s Sustainability Committee, formerly the Go Green Committee, has for some years been pressing the powers that be in Richmond, through the town’s membership of the Virginia Municipal League, or VML, to pass some form of single use plastic bag regulation.

Disposable plastic bags have become a significant form of pollution in rivers and streams, and a danger to wildlife, with birds and other animals suffocating in plastic bag litter. Landfills have experienced a continual increase in the volume of disposable plastic bags which do not decompose, but eventually break up into miniscule fragments, or microplastics, which in turn enter the groundwater system and, potentially, the water we drink.

During its 2020 session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 534, becoming Virginia Code  § 58.1-1745, which allows any county or city in the Commonwealth to impose a tax of 5 cents on a disposable plastic bag provided by certain retailers, primarily grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores, with exceptions being made to food banks and clothing stores, as well as for bags offered to carry ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, leftover restaurant food, newspapers, dry cleaning, alcoholic beverages and prescription drugs. The bill also does not apply to durable plastic bags with handles which were designed to be used multiple times, and have a thickness of 4 mils or more, and bags sold in packages for use in yard leaf cleanup, pet waste cleanup or as trash bags.

Following the passage of this bill, the onus then fell on individual counties and cities to decide whether or not to implement the tax. Early adopters were Fairfax and Arlington Counties, and the Cities of Alexandria, Roanoke and Fredericksburg. During its January 18th, 2022 business meeting, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors narrowly passed the tax which will be adopted throughout the county, and therefore in Middleburg, on July 1st, 2022.

The reference to ‘tax’ however could be better defined, because in fact none of the 5 cents will result as county revenue. The majority, 3 cents, will go toward pollution cleanup and mitigation and providing reusable grocery bags to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC).

Until January 1st, 2023, stores which supply disposable plastic bags will be able to retain 2 cents of the 5 cents per bag, after which date it will be reduced to 1 cent. 

The hope and intention is that fewer and fewer shoppers will use disposable plastic bags, preferring to take their own, much sturdier reusable bags when they go to the store, in turn reducing this terrible form of pollution and helping to assure a future, healthy ecosystem. 

During its annual wellness day events, held before the pandemic, the Go Green Committee teamed up with local businesses to provide sponsored reusable grocery bags which are seen to this day being used by locals. We see an opportunity for more such sponsorship in the future, in a win-win situation for all.

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