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County considers plastic bag tax to help fund new environmental office

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plastic bags at a Wal-Mart checkout stand

Prince William County officials are examining the possibility of creating an office of environmental sustainability and are considering a 5-cent plastic bag tax to help fund it. 

The tax would likely not be implemented until next year, however, and projected revenues would be minimal – only around $50,000 per year, according to Prince William County Executive Chris Martino. 

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 allowing localities to collect taxes on disposable bags given by grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores. 

Tax revenues must be allocated for environmental cleanup, pollution and litter management, providing educational programs to reduce environmental waste and to pay for reusable bags for recipients of federal food support programs.

Fairfax, Alexandria and Arlington are also considering whether to implement a plastic bag tax.

The cost to create a countywide sustainability office, as well as a county climate action plan and citizen-led environmental sustainability commission, would cost an estimated $650,000, according to county officials.

Whether the office receives funding this year is up to the board of county supervisors.

At-large Chair Ann Wheeler said Wednesday, March 17, she is in full support of the effort and said it is possible the board could fund the office in this year’s budget, with or without a plastic bag tax. 

“It's an important subject that we need to start acting on,” Wheeler said. 

Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, a vocal advocate for adopting countywide environmental policies, said his office is working to identify a funding source for the environmental sustainability office. 

“I am proud of the advocacy by the community on this issue that has brought us to the precipice of establishing an office of sustainability,” Boddye said. “We hope to be able to address it this budget cycle.”

The new sustainability office would be established in part to help the county meet environmental goals set in 2020 to address the local impacts of climate change. Those goals include sourcing 100% of electricity for county buildings from renewables by 2030 and drastically reducing countywide greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels are causing temperatures to rise across the planet and increasing global temperatures have been accompanied by changes in weather and climate, including more floods, droughts and intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The creation of an office of environmental sustainability and a climate action plan would be a major win for local activists who have been urging the board to back their climate resolution with the necessary funding. 

Reach Daniel Berti at

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