Roanoke’s plastic bag tax raises nearly $60,000 in revenue in first six months

Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 10:44 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - It’s been more than six months since Roanoke instituted its plastic bag tax. While currently there is no dedicated person in the city tracking any environmental impact, the tax is raising thousands in revenue.

A five-cent plastic bag tax can add up. It’s helped the city of Roanoke raise nearly $60,000 since January. Roanoke City Council stresses it’s not about the money.

“We really didn’t create this to generate revenue. We wanted to create cultural change,” Council Member Joe Cobb said.

According to the Virginia Department of Taxation, Roanoke has raised $59,263 in the first six months from the tax. April was the highest grossing-- bringing in nearly $19,000 in revenue. May and June saw a dip, each seeing around $14,500. It’s a far cry from what Council member Bill Bestpitch told our team last April when the city was just considering the tax.

“I hope we never collect one nickel out of this tax,” Bespitch said.

For Councilman Cobb, all that money means the cultural change the Roanoke council is looking for has yet to materialize.

“It says to me on the one hand that a lot of people are still using plastic bags. Maybe that’s for convenience. Maybe they don’t mind paying the cost,” Cobb said.

Cobb also says anecdotally he is seeing more people carry reusable bags, a sentiment shared by Roanoke valley’s regional planner tasked with caring for the environment.

“I know in other regions where they have collected that data about bag distribution, we’ve seen huge drops in plastic bag usage. I’m not sure that anyone has collected that data about bag distribution in our area unfortunately,” Amanda McGee said.

The Executive Director of the Clean Valley Council, an area nonprofit working to promote environmental literacy and doing the hands-on work of picking up litter, says she’s seeing fewer plastic bags during cleanup efforts.

“When you start pulling them, they’ll be entangled under tree roots or something like that, the bags break apart. UV light hits the bag, it becomes brittle in the environment so I can say at that point—that’s an old bag, that’s been sitting around for a while. I’m not seeing as many new bags,” Courtney Carter Plaster said.

As for the revenue, council says in the first two years it will partially go back to the retailers, but will also reinvested into the community. In part through public service announcements and other education efforts, but also by distributing reusable bags to communities most impacted by the tax.

“I would love to see us distribute some of these recyclable bags to our convenience stores because they have the relationships with these citizens on a more one to one basis,” Cobb said.

This comes as other localities across the state are beginning to implement their own plastic bag taxes or considering one. Loudon County just started earlier this month and Charlottesville is now considering one as well.

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