When going to the grocery store, most people might use plastic bags regularly to carry all of their items.
But in York County, and Virginia as a whole, that could change.
During a York County Board of Supervisors meeting, James Barnett, the county’s attorney, said there were a variety of changes in legislation passed by the 2018 General Assembly that would require some updates to county code. he later emphasized those will not be many changes, but mostly involve a few particulars as to the treatment of dangerous and vicious dogs, and the definition of real property for tax relief purposes for the elderly and disabled.
In response, Walter Zaremba, a board member, said he had heard a suggestion the county should ban single-use plastic bags. Zaremba did not immediately respond for comment and it’s unclear from where he heard the suggestion.
Zaremba has also said he had heard Charlottesville had done something similar.
The environmental nonprofit, GreenBlue, which is based out of Charlottesville, did not respond in time to say whether this was accurate. GreenBlue works to find a sustainable use of materials in society, according to its website.
However, Zaremba wondered whether if it were possible for Charlottesville, would it also be possible for York County to ban or regulate the use of plastic bags. Barnett said cities and counties do not operate under the same regulations all the time so he would have to research it.
“Cities and towns have to be created by the General Assembly, and as part of the process are issued a charter,” Barnett later wrote in an email. “A charter will sometimes grant specific powers to one city or county that may not be shared even with all other cities and towns. Counties can have charters, but require a referendum to do so…A locality with a charter automatically has a number of ‘Uniform Charter Powers’ …and those powers are not shared generally with counties.”
Barnett said he has never worked for a city and therefore he cannot be considered an expert on the distinction between cities and counties.
During the meeting, Barnett said there had recently been legislation in the past to impose a tax or fee on the plastic bags by locality, but the legislation had failed.
That was House Bill 2095, which would give authority by locality to “prohibit by ordinance the purchase, sale, or provision, whether free or for a cost, of certain single use products that are not recyclable or compostable, and for which there is a suitable and cost-effective compostable or recyclable alternative product available, with certain exceptions,” according to the Legislative Information System of Virginia.
The bill would also allow counties and cities to impose a 5-cent per bag tax on disposable plastic bags to customers by particular retailers. Revenue from the tax would be directed into a locality’s litter control or stormwater drainage programs.
However, in February the bill did not make it out of the Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns.
Since the May 21 Board of Supervisors meeting, Barnett said he hasn’t researched the issue more because of the possibility of legislation passing similar to House Bill 2095.
But, Barnett said, there could be issues with that type of bill in the future because of the complexity of allowing one locality to create restrictions while another might not.
“I can foresee a number of potential issues if localities can ban such plastics,” he wrote in an email. “If the ban is effective in only one locality, I am not sure how the manufacturers can create products free of plastic packaging, for example, to be sold in only one locality in Virginia. I am not sure just how such a ban would operate. Plastic bags and straws may be easier to be regulated in one locality, because they can be purchased by specific store locations, but ‘single use’ captures a pretty broad category of plastics not all of which can easily be targeted at specific markets.”