Salem leaders: Put a deposit on 'nip' bottles

File PhotoA nip bottle waiting to be picked up at the intersection of Lafayette Street and West Avenue in 2016.

SALEM — One of the city's greatest menaces makes an appearance on the unofficial Halloween Bingo card that circulates among residents every October: "Nips in flower pots."

Now, the mayor and City Council are calling for action from the state.

City Mayor Kim Driscoll filed a resolution with the City Council this week pushing the state's legislature and governor to add nip bottles to the state's bottle and can redemption program. In Massachusetts, the law adds a 5-cent charge on every bottle and can, which can be redeemed by returning the bottles and cans to various locations.

"As you are no doubt aware, one of the most common forms of litter in Salem and throughout the Commonwealth are nip bottles," Driscoll wrote in a letter dated Thursday. "While some communities are studying banning these types of containers altogether, I believe a more effective approach to reducing this form of litter would be to simply extend the existing bottle redemption law to include nips."

The resolution cleared the City Council unanimously Thursday night.

Nips, as legally defined in the mayor's resolution, constitutes "'nip' bottles or any other small bottle of spirit, liqueur, or other alcoholic beverage, typically of 50 ml, intended to comprise an individual serving."

The bottles have a storied history in Salem that extends far beyond their ability to land people a full Bingo card every Halloween.

After the 2016 Halloween season, a group of concerned residents banded together to form a social media presence named "Fireballs of Salem." The intention of the page was to shame empty bottles found around the city while encouraging residents to pick up and either recycle or otherwise trash them.

Bill Legault, a past city councilor, helped run the page.

"There's 15 to 20 people I'm aware of because of what we've done who walk around and pick stuff up," Legault said. 

The problem isn't nearly as noticeable as it was when the group was formed, Legault said.

"There were certain spots I knew I could always go to... I could go to the dumpster behind Santander Bank and find stuff every weekend," Legault said. "I have a harder time finding nips and other alcoholic beverages around downtown Salem than I used to."

Driscoll was asked whether she felt the resolution would be effective, what with residents already recycling cans and bottles via curbside pickup. Is there really reason to believe nips would get turned in for deposits when everyone just recycles already?

Absolutely, according to the mayor.

"Obviously, you don't see a Coke can or soda can, any deposit can on the side of the road. It gets picked up by somebody," Driscoll said. "It's the exact opposite with nip bottles."

So putting a bounty on every bottle would give residents reason to hunt them down and turn them in, according to Driscoll.

"I think it would eliminate the problem, us spending precious city resources trying to keep up with this very disposable litter item we're seeing more of," Driscoll said. "If there was a deposit on them, I think people would return them."

Legault said he wasn't convinced. While he's seen less nips as his group has humiliated the bottles on social media, and any response at a state-wide level would be better than nothing, he's also opposed to the deposit system.

"We're putting the onus of these deposits on the small businessman, like Steve's Market, to put aside the space, get a machine, hire staff," Legault said. "The onus should be on the people who make and distribute the bottles — the companies. They're the ones who make the mess."

The resolution passed with minimal discussion.

Ward 5 City Councilor Josh Turiel said the request "isn't a perfect solution, but the solution of putting a deposit on nips to go with other canned and bottled beverages is probably something that could encourage people to clean it up."

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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