Five-cent tax looks to limit littering

Plastic bags are hung along a fence to spread awareness of the problem of littering in America.

Photo courtesy of Flickr under Creative Commons License

Plastic bags are hung along a fence to spread awareness of the problem of littering in America.

Fairfax County has recently approved a five-cent tax on plastic bags in the hopes that consumers will be motivated to switch to reusable bags.

The five-cent tax was voted on by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors with the intent to solve the problem of litter by limiting the use of single-use plastic bags. The tax will go into effect on January 1, 2022, in all supermarkets, pharmacies, and convenience stores. The tax’s goal is to have consumers switch to reusable bags to save the environment and limit the amount of plastic in our community.

According to, 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used by Americans each year, requiring almost 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture. These bags, however, take 1,000 years to reduce into landfills and do not fully decompose. Instead, they photo-degrade. They become microplastics that absorb toxins that continue to pollute the environment.

The General Assembly of Virginia passed a law in 2020 that permitted Fairfax County, along with other counties, to implement taxes. 

“We had gotten a lot of requests from citizens and environmental organizations asking us to use the General Assembly provided,” explained Fairfax County Board Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

Plastic bags are used very often in America, which begs the question—how will people react?

“I don’t believe people are gonna be happy when they have to start paying [the tax]. That’s what I heard from most of my constituents. I think it’s going to disproportionately impact lower-income households and businesses that are struggling,” said Fairfax County Board Supervisor Pat Herrity.

Supervisor Herrity was the only board member to oppose the tax since he believes there are many other more effective ways to fix the problem of littering.

“The real problem we have here is litter, and I have proposed some pretty creative solutions to the litter problem,” said Herrity. “But you know, [the tax] does not solve the litter problem. People are still going to buy plastic bags and litter.”

The rest of the board believes that the switch from plastic to reusable bags will lower the amount of litter as well as raise some money for the cleanup. 

“It’s pretty rare to see reusable bags out in our streams or on the roadway or the side of the road,” said Alcorn. “From a litter perspective, you see a lot more single-use plastic bags out there so I think it will have a positive impact at least for the litter portion on the environment.”

Fairfax County has done several things to benefit the environment, so this is not the first attempt. 

“Most of [the changes we’ve made] are in the energy,” said Herrity. “The energy efficiency of our buildings, we spent a lot of time making our buildings more energy-efficient. And that not only saves energy but also saves the county dollars. So it’s a win-win!”

“For example, we have Friends of Huntley Meadows and also Friends of Frying Pan Park. And one of the things that they do is they will bring volunteers to the parks to pick up litter and to clean up. Basically to assist county employees in keeping our parks clean,” explained Alcorn. 

The board is very eager to solve this litter problem and to better our environment as a whole. With the new tax and the various programs implemented, their doing their best to keep the county clean.