Founder and executive director of Keep Massachusetts Beautiful, Mansfield resident
Over the past 13 years, I have led or helped organize hundreds of community litter cleanups across Massachusetts. In addition to cigarette butts, coffee cups, and lottery tickets, one of the most common forms of litter our volunteers collect are miniature liquor bottles — or what we here in Massachusetts call “nips.”
In 1982, Massachusetts added a 5-cent redeemable deposit on beer and soda to help reduce the amount of litter along roadsides. In those days, the only place you might find a nip bottle was on an airplane, and therefore nips were not included in the original Bottle Bill.
Flash forward to 2021, where nips are sold like candy at the checkout counters of most liquor and package stores. Consumers eagerly snap up flavored bottles of cinnamon whiskey, peppermint schnapps, and even peanut butter-flavored concoctions.
Sadly, once consumed, many of these empty nip bottles come to rest along Massachusetts roadsides and other public spaces. In two years, Keep Gardner Beautiful volunteers collected 100,000 littered nips. More recently, Keep Hyde Park Beautiful volunteers collected 10,000 littered nips from their neighborhood in less than two months. In both cases, civic-minded local liquor store owners voluntarily paid a 5-cent bounty on each nip collected to incentivize the collection of nip litter.
While we applaud these efforts, it’s not enough to stem the tide of nip litter statewide. That’s why I urge Massachusetts lawmakers to add a deposit on the sale of nips (along with many other beverage containers not currently covered by the Bottle Bill) and raise the deposit on all redeemable beverage containers to 10 cents.
Adding a 10-cent deposit on nips will incentivize people to pick up the nips that become littered across our landscape to collect a 10-cent bounty. And a 10-cent deposit will prevent future nip litter by inspiring some would-be litterers to return their empty nips and reclaim their deposits.
The Maine Legislature overwhelmingly voted to add a deposit on nips in 2017 and today the people of Maine are still enjoying happy and productive lives, but with much less nip litter. Let’s follow Maine’s lead and take this important step to reduce nip litter here in Massachusetts.
Louis A. Cassis
President, Braintree-based Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Massachusetts
Including miniature bottles in the state’s failing deposit law will hurt local businesses and not deliver the suggested environmental benefits espoused by proponents.
In 2014, Massachusetts voters spoke clearly when they rejected a ballot proposal to expand the state’s forced deposit system by a decisive margin of 73 to 27 percent. The decisive outcome showed that voters in Massachusetts want to recycle, but also want a modern system that works far better and is more convenient than the present one.
Rather than addressing the issue up front — by educating consumers and providing improved access to recycling — this approach allows bad behavior to go unchecked with the hope that someone will come along to clean up the mess. We can do better.
The redemption rate in Massachusetts is at an all-time low — 43 percent — while the unclaimed deposits, which funnel into the state’s General Fund, are at an all-time high of $61 million. Redemption rates have slid significantly — 28 percent since 2010 — and stand at the lowest level of any of the 10 states that have deposit laws.
Adding miniatures to the Bottle Law would do nothing to reverse this trend but would be a boon for the state’s General Fund, which is spent on many things but not on improving recycling and reducing the volume of litter on our streets.
It should also be noted that while the redemption rate has collapsed in Massachusetts, the state’s recycling rate is relatively strong. That means people are recycling through established municipal streams.
If nip bottles were made redeemable, local, family-owned package stores, especially those in close proximity to New Hampshire and Rhode Island will lose sales and face the challenges of operating a manual redemption center on their premises. Reverse vending machines are not equipped to handle miniatures, which limits retailer options and increases the cost of doing business. In a market which is becoming increasingly competitive, these new costs could be the final nail in the coffin for many small businesses.
We know there are better and more effective ways to address recycling and litter in Massachusetts, and urge the Commonwealth to not make a bad situation worse.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact email@example.com.
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