No-go on charging customers for plastic bags

A subcommittee of the House Finance Committee last week tabled House Bill 1115, which would have required stores to charge shoppers 5 cents for each non-reusable bag they give customers.

From Capital News Service reporter Frances Correa…

Legislators have killed another bill targeting the disposable plastic bags provided by grocery stores and other retailers.

A subcommittee of the House Finance Committee last week tabled House Bill 1115, which would have required stores to charge shoppers 5 cents for each non-reusable bag they give customers.

The bill’s sponsor – Delegate Adam Ebbin, D-Arlington – wasn’t discouraged. He said his measure received “a pretty thorough and fair hearing.”

The goal of HB 1115 was to encourage shoppers to avoid the tax by bringing their own reusable bags.

Ebbin said that before tabling his proposal, subcommittee members “spoke about what they perceived as the need for addressing the problem, whether or not it was in the exact form that the bill brought forward.”

“I think we’re making progress,” Ebbin said, “and I will be bringing it up again” at next year’s legislative session.

HB 1115 had support from the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.

“We were very much in favor of the bill because plastic bags are harmful to wildlife,” said Tyla Matteson, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club. “For example, turtles mistake the plastic for jellyfish, and jellyfish is an important food source for them.”

She said that plastic bags end up in the ocean and other waters and on land and that they cause the death of birds and other animals.

Merchants said they are concerned about the environment, too – but that government shouldn’t use tax policies and laws to force people to stop using plastic bags.

“It’s going to be market-driven, and it’s going to be consumer behavior that will be changed over time,” said George Peyton, a lobbyist for the Virginia Retail Federation.

Many stores offer incentives for shoppers to bring their own bags, and the retail federation has launched pilot programs to encourage plastic bag recycling in Alexandria and Isle of Wight County.

Retailers want consumers “to use plastic bags correctly so they don’t end up in our streams and they don’t end up littering our environment but they get recycled and reused,” Peyton said.

HB 1115 wasn’t the only bill targeting disposable bags this session. HB 521, sponsored by Delegate Joseph Morrissey, D-Highland Springs, would have imposed an outright ban on the use of plastic carryout bags by retailers – unless the bags were designed for reuse.

On Feb. 3, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources voted to table Morrissey’s bill.

Ebbin said the average Virginian uses about 300 non-reusable bags per year – a total of more than 2 billion bags annually. Only 1-2 percent of those bags are recycled, Ebbin said.

Some U.S. cities – including Washington, D.C. – have imposed a tax on plastic bags. San Francisco has banned such bags outright.

So even though the bill has been killed (for now, at least), what do you think? Many local stores offer a discount to customers who bring their own bags, but should it go further? Should stores charge customers who make use of disposable plastic bags?

If it makes any difference, the tax would not apply to bags used for meat, fish, poultry, ice cream, leftover restaurant food, newspapers, dry cleaning and prescription drugs. Funds collected from the tax would go to Water Quality Improvement Fund.

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. I think it would be a great way to encourage people to start using reusable bags. Much more environmentally friendly.

  2. Bobbi on said:

    They should focus on the heart of the issue: recycling. Currently I can only recycle (by their definition, I presume) my bags at the grocery store. Why can’t I put them in my recycle bin for the waste management company to pick up? (The WM company left me a nasty gram that they don’t accept plastic bags.) In my house, we recycle the bags by collecting our pet’s waste so we can dispose of it cleanly and properly. Is that not recycling? We also use the bags to triple bag fluorescent light bulbs whose lifespan is way to short and whose waste is harmful to the environment because YET AGAIN, there is not a local recycling effort in place to handle our attempts of going green. Would stores charge for paper bags? Paper bags are easily recycled at home. If we could have the same recycling ease with the plastic bags, it would help solve the problem. Politicians are skirting the REAL issue.

  3. Please see updates above re: plastic bags that would be allowed and where the funds would go.

  4. Valerie W. on said:

    I think the only way people will curb their use of plastic bags would be requiring stores to charge for them. When I studied abroad in Denmark several years ago, the first thing I noticed was that I had to buy my own grocery shopping bags. After my first trip I reused those bags for every trip to the store until they were falling apart. I now have some re-usable bags I reserve for grocery shopping, and I often carry my own reuseable bag in my purse for stores like the pharmacy, target, and the such. One thing I noticed with stores other than grocery stores is they don’t ask if you actually need a bag. Before I know it I’m all checked out and they’re onto the next person and I completely forgot to mention that I don’t need a bag. I think that charging for plastic bags would force both the customer and the employee checking people out to think if they actually need a plastic bag. There is one store in the US where I have seen them charge for plastic bags and that is Ikea. I would guess that has something to do with the fact that they’re a Swedish company.

  5. V Cobb on said:

    Thank goodness. We don’t need another tax. Seems to be the trend to leave DC alone with its bag tax.

    Plastic bags won’t be banned in Oregon

    Calif. legislature kills 25-cent bag tax

  6. Alfonso on said:

    Plastic bags are a scourge.

  7. Such a shame. Its time to eliminate single-use plastic. Get a FREE Green Garmento, the ultimate reusable dry-cleaning bag at
    Be Fantastic…Use Less Plastic!

  8. Tamara Smith on said:

    Whole Foods and Krogers reward you for bringing your own bags. You have a choice of donating a nickle to a non profit at Whole Foods or deducting a nickle from your bill. At Krogers’ you get the nickle off your bill. I applaud both of them for offering the incentive, and for taking back their plastic bags for recycling.

  9. Plastic bags are awful. The very definition of pointless waste. Forget taxing them, just ban them. Many countries and cities all over the world already do, although I understand of course that we in the US are culturally obliged to be the absolute last to accept most good ideas. So maybe we’ll revisit this topic again in twenty years, when all other developed and undeveloped nations have banned plastic bags, and we’re still arguing about the freedom to carry six gallons of milk at once as you lurch across the parking lot toward your car.

  10. I’ve made a point to collect reusable bags to cut back on my plastic consumption. But I always forget to bring them to the store with me.
    So I just get paper bags. But I use the paper bags to hold empty beer cans and other recycling.
    I’d really like to get rid of that horrible plastic tupperware in my kitchen, and have already started the switch to glass. But you can’t recycle the tupperware, either. So what am I supposed to do with it? Keep using it, I guess.
    Back in college, there was this little store in Central NY (Byrne Dairy or something) who sold their milk in refillable glass jars. I wish more stores sold milk that way.

  11. Cathy on said:

    Wait. Joe Morrissey is a DELEGATE? I thought he was in jail or disbarred or run out of town or something. Good lord, THAT is the real news story here!

  12. I agree that this shouldn’t come from legislation and should be market driven. This is an attitude thing that can’t be forced or charged into reformation, and has to happen over time. I re use my plastic bags for many uses throughout my house and resent that people assume we’re all just wasting them. I can’t believe how Republican I sound when I say it should be my decision whether to have a plastic bag or not, and it shouldn’t be taxed or fee’d to make me “more environmentally conscious of it.”

  13. Scott Burger on said:

    Though the plastic bag legislation did not pass this year in the General Assembly, there is a lot of hope for next year.

    And in the meantime, maybe our local merchants can consider this idea:

    Every store has a “10 items or less” lane or something like it. Why not have a “reusable bag lane” or something like that? Customers who bring their own bags from home would be the only ones allowed to use this lane. It would sort of be an advantage or perk for those who care enough about the environment to bring their own bags.

  14. @Bobbi: Recycling isn’t a 1-1 relationship. Recycling one bag doesn’t zero out your use of one bag. Best to reuse, reduce, etc. I don’t think recycling is at the heart of this issue in the least. In fact, I’d say “our overuse of disposable plastic crap” is at the heart of the recycling issue, not the other way around.

    Here is a thing that drives me crazy – if I don’t need a bag bc I bought two things and have two hands, how come I don’t get a bag credit? I never remember to actually ask that question until I’m on my way home, though.

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