One of Salem’s biggest trash problems is also its smallest.
We’re talking about nips, those tiny bottles of alcohol found behind the counter at every neighborhood package store. Weighing in at less than two ounces, they’re small, inexpensive and perfect if you’re looking to have just one drink.
Unfortunately, they’re also quickly consumed and easily discarded -- more often than not dropped on the sidewalk or tossed from the open window of a passing car. The Legislature can act to address this growing problem by amending the state’s so-called bottle bill to include a 5-cent deposit for nip bottles.
The litter problem has become so pronounced that it inspired the Facebook group “Fireballs of Salem,” named for the cinnamon-flavored whisky that dominates the nip market. The Facebook group logs, with photographic evidence, the myriad locations where the empty discards are found. (And to their credit, members spend a lot of time clearing the bottles from the streets.)
The issue, of course, is not unique to Salem. Communities across Massachusetts are dealing with the problem. Nip litter has become an issue on beaches in Gloucester and Cape Cod; and in Taunton, one man picked up 183 Fireball empties during a single half-mile walk.
“As you are no doubt aware, one of the most common forms of litter in Salem and throughout the commonwealth are nip bottles,” Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll wrote in a letter to Beacon Hill leaders last week. “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.”
It’s a good idea that has been proposed in the Legislature before. The bottle redemption law, which puts a 5-cent deposit on most bottles and cans, has done more than any other measure to reduce the amount of roadside and neighborhood trash in local communities.
“Obviously, you don’t see a Coke can or soda can, any deposit can on the side of the road,” Driscoll told reporter Dustin Luca. “If there was a deposit on them, I think people would return them.”
Somehow, proposals to add nips to the bottle law have has never made it through the Legislature, most recently dying in committee during the last legislative session.
The main proponent of that initiative, state Rep. Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich, also lamented a missed opportunity to tackle larger issues connected to nips, namely underage drinking and drunk driving. The small bottles are easier to hide and often bought on impulse, never a good combination.
To that end, some communities have taken stronger measures. Last year, Chelsea banned nips altogether. The state of Maine, where nip sales went from 8.4 million bottles in 2016 to an estimated 12 million in 2017, also weighed a complete ban last year, before settling on a 50-cent price increase to go along with a 5-cent bottle deposit.
In Massachusetts, some communities have sought to put restrictions on nip sales when liquor licenses change hands. The state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, however, has generally frowned on such policies as difficult to administer fairly.
“It 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,” Salem City Councilor Josh Turiel said.
We agree. It’s the simplest approach — at least to the litter problem. The Legislature needs to see that it happens in 2019.