Ebbin to propose statewide bag tax

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While the District adjusts to its recently enacted 5-cent tax on shopping bags, state representatives in Maryland and Virginia are finalizing drafts of similar bills for the start of the 2010 legislative sessions next week.

In Virginia, Adam Ebbin (D-49), one of Alexandrias three members of the House of Delegates, champions the proposed bill, which calls for a nickel tax on single-use paper and plastic shopping bags at food, drug, liquor and convenience stores, he said.

This bill is different [from previous years] because there are incentives for businesses, for folks to collect money from the small fee, Ebbin said Wednesday. Its not a ban, its a consumer choice.

Like the new D.C. law, the tax would benefit environmental cleanup efforts to the tune of either three or four cents per bag, Ebbin said, with businesses keeping one or two cents of the fee depending upon whether they offer customers a carry-out bag credit program for reusable bags.

Proceeds from the bag tax across the Potomac go directly to work cleaning up the Anacostia River, but in Virginia the funds from the proposed bill would go to the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund, Ebbin said.

Maryland Delegate Alfred Carr (D-18) is introducing the bill there and said Wednesday that hes in solidarity with Delegate Ebbin because environmental problems like this transcend political boundaries and its important that we work together as a region to address them.

The pollution from plastic bags in the streams and waterways is the fourth-most prevalent form of pollution behind cigarettes, food wrappers and plastic beverage bottles, Ebbin said.

Former Alexandria City Council member Tim Lovain, a proponent of bag regulation while behind the dais, said he became focused on the issue after hearing from members of the Cousteau Society who informed him of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located in the heart of the planets biggest ocean.

I really appreciate Delegate Ebbins enthusiasm on this and his innovative ideas, Lovain said, especially, if you can say the money from the fees are going to a certain environmental purpose like that, it makes it a little easier for people to accept.

Mentioning the willingness of businesses like IKEA and Whole Foods in reducing disposable bag usage, Lovain said, Its not like the merchants are all dead-set against it. Theres some resistance, but its certainly a trend thats happening around the country.

Additionally, Ebbin said, the five-cent fee on paper and plastic carry-out bags would likely save taxpayers money in cleanup efforts the measure has a history of greatly reducing bag usage as well as cut costs for retailers when it comes to stocking plastic and paper bags.

In Alexandria, shoppers also agreed that Ebbins proposed 5-cent tax would benefit a worthy cause.

I think its a good idea for environmental reasons and because of the economy and its effect on business, said Lee Lynch, an Alexandria resident shopping with her two young sons in Del Ray.

From a personal perspective it has made me change my mind about getting a bag, like yesterday when I got my lunch, she said. But from a family perspective we actually depend on the plastic bags for a variety of things so Id pay the 5 cents. It wouldnt bother me at all.

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