Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans
June 13 2011

Virginia’s Five-Cent Fee Fails To Gather Support

by Julie Lawson

The 2011 legislative session in Virginia featured three proposals to limit plastic bag use: an outright ban, a 20 cent fee on plastic bags modeled on Ireland’s ordinance, and a five-cent fee on plastic and paper bags as used in neighboring Washington, DC.  The Surfrider Foundation’s DC Chapter, as part of the Trash Free Virginia Alliance, supported the last option.

The Virginia Waterways Clean Up and Consumer Choice Act (HB 2047) introduced by Delegate Adam Ebbin of Arlington County proposes a 5 cent fee on single-use paper and plastic bags from all retailers.  As in DC, retailers would keep 1 cent (2 cents if they offer a customer bag credit program), and the revenue generated from the fee would go to the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund to restore surface waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.  Unfortunately, as in 2010, the bill did not receive a vote in committee and failed to progress.  The other two bag proposals met the same fate.

Virginia is fairly conservative politically; most support for Delegate Ebbin’s bill came from the progressive Northern Virginia and college towns in the Shenandoah Valley.  Interestingly, the bill also carried strong support of farmers, particularly cotton farmers.  Fragments of plastic that remain in the cotton fiber can dramatically reduce the value of the cotton at market.  Bags get tangled in the cotton gin and other processing equipment, and it is very dangerous for farm workers to remove the shredded plastic.

Over the winter, the DC Chapter distributed an action alert that resulted in nearly 1,000 letters sent to legislators.  The Trash Free Virginia Alliance aims to unify activists working to reduce litter around the state, and hopefully next year can encourage the interested legislators to work together on a single proposal to address the problem statewide.  In the meantime, the City of Roanoke and Arlington County are both exploring their own bag bans.