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Virginia Beach City Council defers vote on 5-cent plastic bag tax again

The tax would apply to each plastic bag provided to customers in grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores. It would start on Jan. 1, 2023.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Virginia Beach City Council was set to vote Tuesday night on a five-cent disposable plastic bag tax, but instead decided to defer the vote until December 6.

The tax, which advocates say would help reduce pollution, would apply to each plastic bag provided to customers in grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores. The stores would get to keep one cent of the amount collected as a "retailer discount."

If enacted, it would start on Jan. 1, 2023.

The tax aims to discourage the use of plastic bags, which often end up as pollution in waterways, parks and streets.

The revenue will be used for environmental cleanup, education programs for reducing environmental waste, mitigation of pollution and litter and reusable bags for SNAP and WIC recipients.

The vote was supposed to take place on July 5, but the council already deferred it once to Sept. 6, allowing City Manager Patrick Duhaney to create a report on if the tax is the best way to help the environment.

However, city council choose to defer the vote again Tuesday night. Councilmembers Barbara Henley and Guy Tower both voted to postpone the vote again in order to investigate other more comprehensive plans.

"We hope that we are going to propose some suggestions that we can get out there to comprehensively address the problem of litter in our waterways so that it's not just this one small segment of plastic bags," said Henley.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), one of the leading groups in support of the tax, said plastic bags are harmful to wildlife, clog storm drains and break down into microplastics that people and animals consume.

"In Virginia Beach, our economy and quality of life depend on keeping our beaches and waterways clean," CBF's Lisa Renee Jennings said in a July statement. "By making a simple switch to reusable bags, people would both avoid the fee while making Hampton Roads an even more beautiful place to live."

During the July 5 City Council meeting, several people spoke against the tax, citing the hassle and other economic concerns.

"With ongoing inflation, sourcing and supply chain challenges, we currently need flexibility in our approach to addressing single-use plastic bags," Melissa Assalone of the Virginia Food Industry Association told council members.

"It is tone-deaf for you to enact this additional tax or administrative burden on us. Many of us already responsibly reuse these plastic bags," resident Robert Mandigo said.

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