On January 1st, 2022, the City of Fredericksburg rang in the New Year by being one of the first municipalities in Virginia to impose a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic bags distributed at all grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores in the City. 

Friends of the Rappahannock supported the action alongside a number of local conservation groups including the Fredericksburg Clean & Green Commission, Fossil Free Fredericksburg and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Last fall, Fredericksburg River Steward Adam Lynch wrote in an op-ed to the Free Lance Star about the nuisance that plastic bags inflict on our river ecosystem and community: 

“I’m tired of picking plastic bags out of the Rappahannock River. I’m tired of seeing them hung up on the banks when I kayak, and along the roadsides when I drive. And most of all, I’m tired of being without a good answer when a concerned citizen asks me, ‘What can we do about all these plastic bags?’ “

While increasing litter cleanups, improving waste storage and enforcing litter laws have been helpful and continue to be necessary, they hadn’t addressed the underlying problem of widespread plastic bag usage. Outreach and education–especially for our youngest residents– are better at attacking the root cause, but they work gradually and don’t bear fruit for years or decades. We needed immediate action, and the City responded.

During debate, ordinance sponsor Kerry Devine emphasized that behavior change is a key goal of the bag tax, which she referred to as “a tax I hope we don’t have to collect.” After 8 months of receipts, the City has earned over $46,000 in revenue which goes directly to environmental improvement projects including litter cleanups and providing free reusable bags for low-income City residents.

This new tax has already produced visible results. More shoppers than ever are choosing to use reusable bags or finding creative ways to carry out their purchased goods without using a bag at all. Stores such as Target allow customers who bring reusable bags to earn discounts as encouragement. At other stores there are signs in parking lots reminding individuals to “Grab those reusable bags!”

Friends of the Rappahannock was so pleased with the City of Fredericksburg’s leadership on this issue that we awarded them our 2022 River Steward award this past May. We hope that other communities will follow the City’s example and also implement a tax on bags in their community. Residents of other counties in the Rappahannock River watershed including Stafford County and Spotsylvania County are encouraged to contact their local legislators and encourage them to consider this action.

Written by River Steward Adam Lynch & Communication Coordinator Carleigh Starkston. Published Dec. 2022

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