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City joins county in nickel-a-bag tax on plastic grocery bags

Customers of grocery and convenience stores as well other Charlottesville retailers soon will have to pay to carry away their purchases in plastic bags.

Charlottesville City Council unanimously voted Monday to levy a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic bags that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

City shoppers will join their Albemarle County siblings after the county Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a 5-cent tax on plastic bags in May. Store customers in both jurisdictions will have to pay a nickel for each plastic bag they use to carry home their goods. The exception will be plastic bags solely used to prevent damage or contamination of multiple items such meat, produce, dry cleaning and prescription drugs.

“This is something that’s specific, tangible, and I think will make a difference in our community,” said councilor Brian Pinkston.

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.

City officials have voiced a desire to enact the tax to be in step with Albemarle County, standardizing taxing at area grocery stores since community members often cross city and county lines to shop.

Customers will pay the tax to the stores and the stores will 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.

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.

While community members were generally supportive of the tax, some voiced concern about access to reusable bags for lower income households.

Rosia Parker, a public housing resident, asked City Council to take these concerns into consideration when providing bags.

“Some of us don’t receive [SNAP or WIC] benefits. So that leads us to drag our groceries out in a basket and then put them in a car, which some of us may not have,” Parker said.

Community member Nancy Carpenter suggested the city partner with organizations like the Blue Ridge Area Coalition for the Homeless to help provide reusable bags for homeless individuals who are not eligible for SNAP or WIC.

“There are a lot of people who are unsheltered that purchase food items, and they don’t have access to reusable bags,” Carpenter said.


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