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Fee on disposable plastic bags under consideration in Virginia Beach

An environmental initiative that has already been implemented in other parts of Virginia could make its way to Hampton Roads.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A trip to the drugstore or supermarket likely means you walk out with at least one plastic bag. However, circulation of those plastics raises concerns for some Hampton Roads locals.

Jim Deppe with Lynnhaven River NOW cited the impacts on marine life, agriculture and storm drainage systems, to name a few examples.

"Around here, there are so many watersheds that need to be cleared up of plastic bags," he said. 

Deppe spoke in front of Virginia Beach City Council on Tuesday afternoon to get conversations going about a possible tax of five cents per disposable plastic bag.

“It’s framed as a tax, but we look at it as a fee, because you can’t avoid a tax. You can avoid this bag fee if you bring a reusable bag," said Deppe. 

"I think that’s a great idea to do it," said Virginia Beach resident and shopper Stacy Monroe. 

Monroe and Heather Wilber said they see the benefit.

“To help promote the eco-friendly thing we’re all going toward now. I personally have [reusable bags] in my trunk," said Wilber. 

Wilber's reusable bags will come in handy even more if the initiative passes locally.

It's already taken effect this year in several other Virginia communities — including the City of Roanoke, Arlington and Fredericksburg. 

Credit: Contributed, Lynnhaven River NOW

Deppe said Fairfax County anticipates generating $1 million per year. Additionally, he touted Washington, D.C.’s longtime implementation, resulting in $19 million in a span of 10 years. 

However, advocates stressed a measured 70% to 80% reduction in plastics in urban streams and waterways.

“During this whole gas problem we’re having, with high gas prices, that honestly five cents per bag isn’t that bad — especially to save the environment too," said Aaron Lock of Virginia Beach, who believes there is a lasting effect on the move. 

“Either way, it’s kind of a win-win because I’m saving on plastic if I’m taking reusable bags over to the grocery store," Lock added. "And also, if I’m actually using plastic bags, then that’s five cents to the community.”

Leaders said one of the five cents per bag would go back to the vendor. The other four would be remitted to the city for environmental purposes.

If this initiative passes in Virginia Beach, impacted businesses include grocery stores, drugstores, convenience stores and larger retailers with any of the above. 

This wouldn’t affect restaurants, food banks, farmers' markets or food trucks.

Other organizations, such as the Virginia Aquarium Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Virginia League of Conservation Voters, back the initiative. 

During the meeting on Tuesday, Councilman Guy Tower said he is in favor of passing the plastic bag fee. However, it is a matter the entire council needs to vote on.

13News Now made contact with Tower on Wednesday. He said he hopes to have council make its decision no later than July 5. Public comment will be received prior to the vote.  

Meanwhile, Councilman John Moss asked city staff to review why the Commonwealth opted to let localities decide on fees, rather than banning disposable plastic bags altogether.

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