The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently passed a five-cent tax on plastic bags used in grocery, convenience and drug stores that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022.
Let’s take a closer look at this new ordinance and see how it will affect businesses and consumers in Fairfax County. The General Assembly authorized the tax during the last session so it will be collected by the state in the same manner as the Retail Sales and Use Tax and then dispersed back to Fairfax County.
The tax is levied “for each disposable plastic bag provided to a consumer of tangible personal property by retailers in grocery stores, convenience stores, or drugstores.” This tax will apply to small retailers and big box stores that sell groceries or have a pharmacy. It applies to gasoline stations that have convenience stores. The tax will apply to groceries purchased through an online delivery service based in Fairfax County.
Exemptions to the five-cent tax include restaurants, like putting a carry-out meal in a plastic bag. Other retailers such as clothing, office supply or hardware stores are also exempt.
For grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores there are some additional exemptions from the tax. These plastic bags will not be taxed:
1) Durable plastic bags with handles that are specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and that are at least four mils thick;
2) 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;
3) Plastic bags used to carry dry cleaning or prescription drugs; and
4) Plastic bags sold in packages and intended for use as garbage, pet waste, or leaf removal bags. These bags are all exempt from the tax.
To help retailers implement this new tax they will be able to retain a percentage of the tax revenue for their use. That amount will be two cents per bag for 2022 and then one cent per bag beginning Jan. 1, 2023.
It is unclear how much revenue Fairfax County will get from this new tax. State-wide estimates of revenue collection are between $20 – 25 million. In 2012, Montgomery County implemented a similar tax and a 2018 news story reported $2.41 million in revenue. This revenue declined over time as consumers became more accustomed to bringing their own reusable bags when shopping.
How will Fairfax County use the revenue from this new tax? The General Assembly says revenue from this tax may be used for environmental cleanup programs, pollution and litter mitigation programs, educational programs on environmental waste reduction, and providing reusable bags to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) benefits.
For more information on the plastic bag tax visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/environment-energy-coordination/disposable-plastic-bag-tax-fairfax-county
Holly Dougherty is Executive Director of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber.