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Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax State Representatives Push Through Anti-Plastic Bills
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Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax State Representatives Push Through Anti-Plastic Bills

Lopez, Ebbin and Favola pushed for new laws

“Don’t be a litterbug!” “Every Litter Bit Hurts!” — Keep America Beautiful Campaign, 1950s

Chris Le Menestrel of McLean, who is an ardent environmentalist, has watched with amazement as bills that never could have passed a year ago took shape, thanks to local state representatives in Richmond. Instead of dying in committee, they made it across the threshold to become law thanks to the democratic majority.

“For those interested, plastic bags do have a huge carbon footprint, not to mention their impact on the Chesapeake Bay and rivers,” said Le Menestrel. here is a website to track such bills: https://litterfreeva.org/legislation-tracker/

Trash on streets and in waterways, most of it plastic and styrofoam, is an increasingly common sight in Northern Virginia. But local legislators, and activists like Le Menestrel, have something to celebrate. Looking back on the session, not all of the proposed anti-plastic bills passed, but some of them did:

SB11 - by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-39). Local disposable plastic bag tax. Authorizes any county or city, beginning no earlier than January 1, 2021, to impose a tax of five cents per bag on disposable plastic bags provided to consumers by certain retailers, with certain bags being exempt from the tax. The bill allows every retailer that collects the tax to retain a portion of the five-cent tax and provides that the revenue accruing to the county or city shall be used for certain purposes including environmental cleanup and the provision of reusable bags. The measure authorizes the Tax Commissioner to administer the tax.

HB 1151 - by Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49). Plastic bag tax; use of revenues. Allows (but does not require) localities to impose a five-cent ($0.05) per bag tax on plastic bags provided to customers by retailers in grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, or drugstores. Certain products are exempt from the tax. The bill directs revenue from the local tax to be deposited into the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund and the Virginia Natural Resources Commitment Fund. The bill allows every restaurant or retailer that collects the tax to retain one cent of the five-cent tax if the tax is paid in a timely manner. The bill incorporates HB 1673.

SB 193 - patroned by Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31). Single-use plastic and expanded polystyrene products; local prohibition; local tax. This bill was incorporated into SB11, which was then co-patroned with Sen.Ebbin.

HB 533 - Patroned by Del. Betsy Carr (D-69). Expanded polystyrene food service containers; prohibition; civil penalty. Prohibits the dispensing by a food vendor of prepared food to a customer in a single-use expanded polystyrene food service container, as defined in the bill. The bill requires certain chain restaurants to stop using such (styrofoam) containers by July 1, 2023, and sets the date for compliance by all food vendors as July 1, 2025. The bill exempts nonprofit organizations from the definition of "food vendor" and provides a process by which a locality may grant consecutive one-year exemptions to individual food vendors on the basis of undue economic hardship. The bill provides a civil penalty of not more than $50 for each day of violation, to be collected in a civil action brought by the Attorney General or the relevant locality. The penalties collected are to be deposited in the Litter Control and Recycling Fund or to the treasury of the relevant locality, as appropriate. A portion of the penalties deposited in the Fund are to be used for public information campaigns to discourage the sale and use of expanded polystyrene products. Finally, the bill directs the Department of Environmental Quality to post to its website information on compliance and the filing of complaints. This bill incorporates HB 1046 and HB 1347 and contains a reenactment clause.

Legislators are currently concerned with the immediate threat of the Coronavirus, its impact on Virignians and on the state budget. The implementation of the bills could take a back seat, for now, to the more immediate healthcare and economic problems stemming from the crisis.