West News Wire: Five Virginia counties have joined a nationwide trend of levying fees on plastic shopping bags in the hopes of reducing and eventually eliminating their use.

The single-use bags are among the most widespread types of litter, damaging both land and rivers and accounting for a significant amount of the country’s plastic garbage.

Even when properly disposed of, the bags are slow to degrade and made of petroleum materials, posing a slew of hazards.

The plastic may release toxic chemicals into drinking water supplies over time, or it may endanger marine animals and other wildlife who mistake it for food.

The mid-Atlantic state of Virginia allows any county or city to force grocery stores, pharmacies and other retailers to collect a 5-cent tax on every plastic bag provided to shoppers. Arlington and Fairfax counties, along with the cities of Alexandria, Fredericksburg and Roanoke, have done just that beginning January 1.

Taking a stand against plastic bags didn’t originate in the United States.

In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country to ban thin plastic bags, which were blamed for clogging drainage systems and contributing to catastrophic flooding.

Other countries followed suit, either banning them outright or taxing them to discourage their use, which ballooned to a million bags per minute worldwide in 2011, according to the United Nations.

According to World Atlas, about 60 countries have instituted plastic bag controls, including China, India and Cambodia. Several African countries have banned them, including Kenya, Cameroon, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Despite such efforts, plastic bags continue to litter the globe, from oceans to the polar ice caps to even the summit of Mount Everest.

In the United States, California was the first to pass a statewide ban in 2014. Since then, several other states, including Hawaii, New York and Oregon, have banned single-use plastic bags.

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Support is growing in the U.S. as more local governments join the cause.

But not everyone is on board, notably the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, a lobbying group representing the U.S. plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry.

“Taxes on plastic bags will drive up costs for consumers already struggling with rapidly increasing grocery bills due to widespread inflation,” Zachary Taylor, the group’s director, said in a statement to VOA. When disposed of properly, the plastic grocery bag is the carryout bag with the fewest environmental impacts, he asserted.

However, Ruthie Cody, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, supports allowing local jurisdictions to implement bag taxes.

“I don’t think it should be mandatory nationwide but something local governments should decide,” she said, “and the tax is minimal for the everyday consumer, but still effects change.”

“I wish it had happened sooner,” said Patty Hagan, a Fairfax County resident. “Everyone should use reusable bags.”

David Toms, another county resident, concurred. “However, I believe that plastic bags should be banned entirely because they affect nature.” I reside on a lake, and the number of times I see them in the water disgusts me.”

However, Paul Thurmond of Arlington, Virginia, does not believe the tax will have a significant impact. “People who want the bags will buy them nonetheless and then toss them away,” he said, “which seems to contradict the purpose.”

According to Erik Grabowsky, the solid waste bureau chief for Arlington, Virginia, the purpose is to “encourage people not to use the plastic bags” or to stop from discarding them on the ground. “It is up to individuals to act responsibly.”


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