Virginia Legislators to Consider 20-Cent Bag Tax

January 7, 2011

Virginia Del. Joe Morrissey (D) has announced that he will introduce legislation imposing a 20 cent tax on plastic bags. The District of Columbia has a similar 5 cent bag tax, although Morrissey cited Ireland’s experience as more instructive:

After a stint living in Ireland and seeing the success of its 20 pence bag tax, Morrissey was convinced that Virginians could also change their habits.[…] According to Morrissey, his constituents “love” his proposal. “I have heard nothing negative, only positive,” he says. Other delegates have stated their support for bag taxes, including Del. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria, who is proposing his own nickel tax on plastic and paper bags for the third year in a row.

Morrissey made clear that this is not about revenue, but about using the tax to change behavior:

“Two billion—that’s with a ‘b’—end up in rivers, landfills, and crops,” Morrissey says. He takes a moment to describe the detrimental effects of a plastic bag that gets into a cotton bale. “The whole bale could be ruined.”

From our report in May 2010 on the bag tax trend:

Even when pitched more honestly as taxes, they are likely to fall short of ambitious environmental clean-up goals. Also, bag taxes cause unintended effects, such as stimulating bulk purchases of plastic bags, perhaps of a type that would cause equal environmental damage. And bag taxes invariably get caught up in the political process in which special interests in business and government are served more than the public’s interest.

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