Five Virginia jurisdictions have joined a growing trend across America of taxing plastic shopping bags in hopes of reducing and eventually eliminating their use. The bags, designed as single-use items, are among the most common forms of litter, polluting land and waterways alike and constituting a substantial portion of the nation’s plastic waste. Slow to decompose and made from petroleum products, the bags pose myriad dangers even when disposed of properly.  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. Support is growing in the U.S. as more local governments join the cause.

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Author: Deborah Block, VOA News
Image: Associated Press, VOA News