Donna Tavano: Take A Nip Out Of Nips

Out for a recent woodland walk, I sensed the burgeoning presence of pussy willows, spring peepers and brave lilies defying still-present snow flurries. All of these elements of nature are cyclical, their comings and goings orchestrated by an awesome, supernatural design. All are welcome.

Unfortunately, there was also evidence of a most unwelcome evil force surrounding me. I suddenly found myself on what I call “Fireball Alley,” a 500-foot section of scrappy dirt road which meanders through the Harwich Bell's Neck Conservation area. Although the bare roadside will soon be green with blueberries, poison ivy and all manner of foliage, it is now still in winter mode, stark and naked but for brambles, brittle brown oak leaves – and nips bottles.

This plastic pollution is neither natural nor cyclical. It is deposited by selfish, uncaring humans and will remain thus forevermore unless removed by selfless, caring ones. Ninety percent of the miniature cast-offs (determined by my extensive personal research hauling bags of the litter) are of the Fireball Cinnamon Whisky brand. In one hour, I captured 200 of the pesky critters, extricating them from the thorny briers with my (never have to bend down, old person’s) handy-dandy grabber tool. They landed as far as 15 feet back from the edge of the road and were obviously launched from vehicles.

The nips bottles originated as glass airline flight liquor offerings. Apparently the originals are now even collectable. Over the years, they morphed into plastic debris littering Main Streets and nature preserves everywhere. There is really only one reason for their continued existence ( other than retailer benefits): they allow a person to surreptitiously drink and dispose of the evidence quickly, thereby avoiding law enforcement, employers and suspicious spouses. Some people will try to justify nips by claiming they are needed for recipes and cooking – really? – others say savvy shoppers think they get the best bang for their buck, buying in miniature. Some offer that it actually helps people to drink less. Rubbish! Pun intended.

I'm sure you have seen the person clutching six or seven of the buggers on the register counter, where they are often displayed as a point of purchase item in a large container. Some city liquor stores need to clean their parking lots two to three times per day to rid the area of nips containers drunk upon purchase and fired out the car window. Communities from Santa Fe to Augusta Maine, including, more locally, Randolph, Wareham and Yarmouth, have attempted to rid themselves of the scourge. Some proposed bans have been voted down due to vast amounts of cash poured in by the liquor industry fighting against regulation.

One Maine distributor claimed nips sales constituted a third of their profits, $84,000 in a year. Nips sales have grown exponentially from 2011 to 2013, from 1.9 million to 61 million. The Fireball brand is so popular, websites offer DIY recipes: sugar, chili flakes and cinnamon can make for an Atomic Fireball candy experience which appeals especially to young consumers.

In lieu of bans, deposits have been suggested. No, the alcoholic offenders will not be retrieving them for gain. A deposit, however, would entice walkers, do-gooders and even the homeless to collect them and clean the roads. If sales of the bottles were banned, even liquor distributors admit buyers would not go without; they would simply buy a larger container, and be less apt to toss it out a car window. During the recent explosion of nip purchasing in Maine, it is interesting to note that, in the same time period, drunk driving also increased at a much greater rate.

Representative Randy Hunt of Sandwich introduced Bill H.3528 in 2017. It proposes to include nip bottles in our present bottle bill, which is said to recycle 80 to 90 percent of bottles and cans. After making it favorably through myriad committees, it was just sent to the ways and means committee on March 29.

One Maine lawmaker stated that they “shouldn’t legislate morality” regarding banning nip containers. The real truth is, why make it so easy for people to break the law, to enable them to both drink and drive, possibly killing innocents, and pollute our environment. If the public’s right to safe roads and a clean environment is so blatantly attacked, the public has a right and responsibility to fight back with protective legislation. Let’s not make this about protecting somebody’s wallet through nip sales, let’s be creative and positive in improving the general welfare of all.

To make a difference, email or write to the ways and means committee, Massachusetts State House, Room 243, Boston, MA 02133, Brian.Dempsey@mahouse.gov. Any questions may be directed to Randy Hunt’s office and assistant, Matthew Lieber, at matthew.lieber@mahouse.gov.

Encourage the passage of H.3528 before it’s too late.