Harwich Selectmen Weigh Ban On Nip Bottles

By: William F. Galvin

Nip bottles like this one in the Sand Pond parking lot have selectmen looking at potentially instituting a ban on the sale of the small bottles in local package stores. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — Selectmen are considering banning the sale of 50 ml bottles of alcohol, known as nips.

The issue was raised by Selectman Donald Howell Monday night. He said there has been a lot of talk in town about the trash that nips generate.

“We’re getting inundated with trash,” Howell said.

Over the past few years those involved in the Harwich Conservation Trust’s Tour de Trash annual roadside cleanup have made a point to emphasize the number of nip bottles they collect along roadways.

Towns on the Cape are looking at banning the tiny bottles, typically made of plastic, which often end up on the side of the road. Falmouth and Chelsea have bans in place. Mashpee selectmen are poised to take action on a ban and the Barnstable Town Council is scheduled to take the issue up in a couple of weeks, Selectman Ed McManus said.

“Where do you think they drink it?” inquired Howell. “They are not bringing them home. They want it so they can open them quickly. You can’t have an empty container of alcohol in the vehicle. Nips are a way of getting around it.”

“Why we have to clean up after these idiots is beyond me,” Selectman Stephen Ford said. “I get 10 to 15 nips in front of my house every week. It’s a real commentary on our society.”

Selectman Michael MacAskill wanted to know if anyone has reached out to the package stores to see what the economic impact of a ban would be. He said the town is quickly getting into a position of “if we don’t like it, ban it. I don’t like jumping immediately into banning.”

MacAskill referred to recent town meeting actions where plastic bags and plastic water bottles have been banned. He suggested communicating with the store owners to understand the impact. He also recommended talking with legislators about placing a 25-cent deposit on nip bottles, which would make people less likely to throw them away and provide a revenue source for people to pick them up.

Selectmen chairman Larry Ballantine said the board would not move unilaterally and would reach out to package store owners. He said he has been told nips make up 20 to 30 percent of package store sales.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cyndi Williams suggested the town challenge liquor vendors to come up with ideas for reducing trash, such as the creation of disposal containers. She urged getting the community involved.

Joseph Della Morte, owner of Cranberry Liquors in Harwich Port, said when he purchased the business, he told a buddy he was considering stopping the sale of nips. “He said how am I going to have a drink when I go to the movies?” Della Morte said.

Della Morte said nips are a way some people manage their finances and their drinking habits. Taking a larger bottle home could mean more consumption. He estimated no more than 10 percent of nip bottles end up on the street. He said he would sponsor a community program, perhaps with the Boys Scouts, to clean up nip bottles.

Ballantine said if nips are banned, pint bottles may start to show up on beaches.

McManus said he has a session scheduled with several selectmen from surrounding communities in the next few days. The nip bottle issue has been a topic of discussion, he said, and a regional approach to regulations might be more advantageous. McManus said he will report to selectmen about the meeting.

Howell said his point in getting the issue on the agenda was to start the discussion, not end it.

Regarding a timeline, Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers said the package stores will be renewing licenses in December. MacAskill said the board could institute a change during the active license period, but a decision does not have to be concurrent with the license issuance.

The board agreed to hold off on a decision until it can communicate with package store owners.