City Council holds first reading on plastic bag tax

Charlottesville City Council has taken a first step on implementing a five cent tax on most plastic bags at retail stores. A first reading was held on Monday but the public hearing will be held on August 1. 

“It’s still a work in process at this point and we’re not ready for a final version of it,” said Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook. 

Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders explained that the General Assembly adopted legislation in 2020 to allow localities to levy the tax. He said there are only four ways the revenue can be used. 

“We can provide reusable bags to [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] and [Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children] recipients, we can produce education to reduce environmental waste, work on mitigation on pollution and litter, and work on environmental clean-up.” 

A slide from Sanders’ presentation. Download the whole thing to learn more.

Sanders said some bags are exempt, such as durable plastic one with handles intended to be used for multiple uses, and plastics for some types of groceries such as ice cream and meat. 

“The retailer does the work of collecting the tax,” Sanders said. “They are permitted to retain one cent of every five cents collected to offset their collection and remittance expenses. It’s very much a similar process to how they collect retail sales and use collections. They will send those in to the Virginia Department of Taxation each month.”

If approved, Charlottesville would begin collecting the tax on January 1, the same day the tax will go into effect in Albemarle County. Sanders said the city has met with county officials to coordinate efforts and communication. He said the city will need to distribute reusable bags in advance to people who will really need them. 

“That additional five cents each visit for all the items they would be acquiring adds up over time so we want to make sure that we’re making an equity investment in the roll-out of this particular tax,” Sanders said. 

One of the details to be worked out is the type of reusable bag. Linen, canvas, or another kind of plastic? 

“That will be one of the program details that we will definitely be looking for additional feedback,” Sanders said 

City Councilor Brian Pinkston said that he looks forward to hearing from the public.

“To me this seems pretty non-controversial,” Pinkston said. “It seems like a win-win type thing but maybe I’m missing something.” 

While the public hearing will be held on August 1, Council may not take a vote until August 15 in case something there’s a logistical challenge brought up by the public. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the July 22, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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