Arlington County officials want to limit the use of plastic bottles and bags this year and say they plan to do so without the help of state lawmakers, who appear unwilling to impose a tax on plastics.
Rather than press the General Assembly for a third time, Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Jay Fisette said he's launching a "personal crusade" against plastics this year.
Residents nationwide use 50 billion plastic bottles a year, he said, of which only 20 percent, or 10 billion bottles, are recycled. This, coupled with the use of plastic bags, creates enormous waste, said Fisette, who twice pushed the General Assembly to allow a tax on plastic bags only to be turned away by lawmakers.
So Fisette is asking residents to "do as I have, and personally commit to never buy another single-use plastic water bottle again."
Board member Mary Hynes said she supports a bottle ban and hopes it will start conversation in the county over restricting the use of plastic bottles and bags.
"We've tried several different times on the plastic bag tax," Hynes said. "We think it would be great, but the General Assembly is just not inclined to do that."
Although Fisette's fellow board members support the measure, many bag advocates say targeting plastics is not the answer to the problem. Rather, officials must try to change public behavior and promote recycling, they said.
Donna Dempsey, a spokeswoman for the American Progressive Bag Alliance, said the county's suggestion to limit the use of bags could have major implications for jobs nationwide, since more than 30,000 Americans work for bag manufacturers.
"Now is not the time or place to pick out one item [to limit or tax]," she said.
Roger Diedrich, of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, favors any measure -- whether through legislation or word of mouth -- that would reduce waste in local waterways and streets. He said an increased focus on recycling, however, is not the answer.
"Plastic is definitely a problem, and we think that any kind of disincentive is a good idea," Diedrich said. "But people just don't respond to [recycling programs]. We need to give them an incentive."