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Charlottesville considering five-cent plastic bag tax

Grocery and convenience stores in the city of Charlottesville may have to start charging customers for use of disposable plastic bags.

City Council is considering levying a five-cent tax on each disposable plastic bag distributed in city stores. The city will hold a public hearing at its Aug. 1 meeting to give residents an opportunity to tell the council what they think before council votes on the tax.

If approved, the tax would go into effect Jan. 1.

In 2020, the General Assembly and the governor changed state law to allow cities and counties to tax bags. The city of Roanoke became the first locality to adopt the tax last year, and at least four additional localities followed and started taxing the bags at the start of 2022.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a five-cent tax on plastic bags in May. The tax will go into effect Jan. 1.

If the city approves the tax, store customers in both jurisdictions would have to pay a nickel for each plastic bag they use to carry groceries or other items. Customers who bring their own bags would not pay the tax.

Plastic bags solely used to prevent damage or contamination of multiple items such meat, produce, dry cleaning and prescription drugs would not be subject to a tax.

“We want to be in lockstep with the county,” Mayor Lloyd Snook said at Monday’s council meeting during a presentation about the tax given by Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders.

Snook said if the city implements the same tax as the county, it would standardize taxing at area grocery stores, since community members often cross city and county lines to shop.

Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers said he has been in conversation with Albemarle County Executive Jeff Richardson to work on rolling out the tax implementation at the same time.

If the city adopts an ordinance, customers would pay the tax to the stores that then would give the money to the state. Money raised must go to “support environmental cleanup, litter and pollution mitigation, or environmental education efforts or to provide reusable bags to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Women, Infants, and Children Program benefits,” according to state law.

Sanders said the city is looking at the different types of reusable bags it could purchase and distribute to community members and the benefits of different types of materials, such as linen, canvas or durable plastic.

Councilor Sena Magill suggested the purchase of wheeled bags to make carrying groceries easier for elderly and disabled community members. Sanders said he and Deputy City Manager Ashley Marshall are looking into various wheeled options.

Some plastic bags can be recycled, but according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the recycling rate for plastic bags, sacks and wraps was 10% in 2018. The agency says plastic pollution is particularly dangerous because it does not fully biodegrade in the environment.

Councilor Brian Pinkston voiced his support for implementation of the tax, saying he has received dozens of emails and phone calls from constituents in support of the tax.

“This seems like a pretty uncontroversial type of thing,” he said.


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