A ban on bags?

Published 11:47 pm Friday, January 14, 2011

Bag ban: A plastic bag lies in a ditch near Holland Road Friday. Some state legislators want to tax or ban the bags.

Three Virginia lawmakers have filed legislation that would tax or ban plastic bags.

The fees or ban would apply to plastic bags used by consumers to carry purchases from the store, including grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores. Bags with handles that are at least 2.25 millimeters thick and are specifically designed for multiple reuse are exempt.

Delegate Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington) proposes a tax of 5 cents on both paper and plastic bags. Delegate Joe Morrissey (D-Highland Springs) would prefer a fee of 20 cents on each bag. But Delegate Onzlee Ware (D-Roanoke) wants to ban them altogether.

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The Center for Consumer Freedom has blasted the bills, saying the legislation would have “unintended consequences” if passed.

According to the CCF, some reusable shopping bags sold or given away in stores contain excessive lead levels. In addition, many consumers rarely wash their bags, allowing buildup of bacteria in the bags, the CCF said.

“I recycle mine anyway,” Food Lion customer Debbie Pfeiffer said Friday of plastic bags. Plus, she added, “We’re just killing trees” by using paper bags instead.

The proposed taxes would not apply to durable, reusable plastic bags, or bags used to carry ice cream, meat, leftover restaurant food, newspapers, dry cleaning and prescription drugs. Multiple bags sold in packages to consumers, such as garbage and leaf bags, also would not be subject to the extra tax.

Retailers would be allowed to retain a portion of the fee. Under Ebbin’s proposal, the rest would be deposited in the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund. Establishments that fail to collect and remit the fee would incur fines of $250, $500 and $1,000 for the first, second, and third and subsequent offenses, respectively.

Morrissey’s legislation does not say where the collected fee would go, except to say it will be collected by the Virginia Department of Taxation.

Ware’s legislation would ban the bags outright unless they are durable and have handles, are at least 2.25 millimeters thick and specifically designed for multiple reuse.