CT keeps ‘nip bottles’ for now, but the battle has resumed

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A controversial measure that would allow municipalities to ban those tiny bottles of alcohol, or so-call nips bottles, is dead for now.

But proponents of the measure have vowed to resurrect it by returning to the legislature’s Environment Committee in January to try again.

“We’ll keep promoting our cause,” said Tom Metzner of Glastonbury who is leading the charge to allow municipalities to ban the litter-causing nips. “The planning for next year starts now. We will be ready.”

He said the effort wasn’t wasted because they brought “a lot of attention to the cause.”

Movement to change CT liquor law on sale of nip bottles gains momentum

Liquor industry representative Larry Cafero, the main opponent of the measure, will be back too.

“I know the battle won’t be over,” said Cafero, executive director and general counsel for Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Connecticut. “It will be here to stay and we’ll keep making our points.”

The battle is over a legislative bill is proposed by state Rep. Joseph Gresko, D-Stratford, House chairman of the Environment Committee and several colleagues.

Under the bill, which recently failed to make it out of committee because of time constraints, towns and cities would be able to decide individually whether to ban the sale of nips in their municipality.

Metzner has said the bill amounts to clarifying Connecticut’s liquor law and doesn’t seek to ban nips statewide.

The popular tiny bottles of liquor fit in pockets and are often tossed out of vehicle windows onto streets and into waterways after being consumed.

The bottles selling for about $1 to $5 cannot be redeemed for a deposit because there is no place for them in the machinery where other other cans and bottles are redeemed.

So instead, legislators put a 5 cent surcharge on each nip bottle. That money, significant amounts in some cases, goes back to each municipality.

Under the law, municipalities are required to spend the money on litter reduction or environmental initiatives, but not necessarily tied to getting rid of nip bottle litter.

The bottles have brought in  $9 million in two years, with big cities receiving hefty amounts.

But the litter remains.

Both sides agree the nips produce litter, but they differ in the solution.

Millions of nip bottles littering CT’s roads point to drunk driving. Here’s how one town is addressing the issue

Gresko said the bill would take time because it would involve changing the liquor law.

“It was going to take too much of a heavy lift,” for the recent short session, he said. “I’d love to have all my environment bills done, but there’s never enough time.”

Gresko said the “issue” he has with the bill is that the Nickels for Nips program has only been in effect for a couple of years.

“My issue is getting the municipalities to use the money for the right reason,” Gresko said.

Gresko said he would like to make sure “the municipalities are adhering rather than to give them the power to ban the sale of nips.”

He said he wonders what would happen if they changed the law as was asked and the liquor industry made bigger bottles. Then, he said, there would be bigger bottles around as litter.

Cafero, who leads the powerful liquor lobby, said he believes the liquor regulations in Connecticut were intended to be uniform, especially because they involve “regulation of a drug.”

It’s a slippery slope, he said, to banning other sized bottles, or liquors that taste like cinnamon or root beer because they might appeal to teenagers.

“Where does it stop?” Cafero asked rhetorically. “Suddenly you are regulating a drug. If you pass letting municipalities choose, it’s dangerous.”

He also said liquor store owners have an expectation when they start in the business and that includes the ability to sell nip bottles. In some cases, members of the public have praised the nip bottles as an aid to keep heavy drinking in check or for using recipes when not much alcohol is needed.

About 90 million nips bottles per year are sold in Connecticut, officials say.

Cafero said in other states where municipalities have been able to ban nips, the litter remains because consumers buy them one town over.

“Are you solving the problem or moving it?” he asked.

Cafero said he would prefer a measure that would hold municipalities more accountable for how the surcharge is spent.

He said he’s seen many creative ways to address the nips litter directly, including a municipality buying “grabbers” and enlisting groups such as scouts to pick them up.

Metzner, who works for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, but is taking the cause on as a private citizen, said municipalities in neighboring Massachusetts have benefitted from local bans, including lowering their rate of drinking and driving, as well as decreasing litter.

“We’re collecting a lot of data,” and will emphasize the drinking and driving issue. he said.

Nip bottles are easily concealed by a hand, making them ideal for drinking and eluding police while driving.

The alcohol in the nip bottles is often used close to the place of purchase and tossed out the window nearby.

In addition to Metzner and other environmental activists who spoke in favor of the bill at a recent public hearing before the Environment Committee was Rhea Drozdenko, river steward for the Connecticut River Conservancy.

Drozdenko said that during last year’s Source to Sea annual clean up, nip bottles were the “main source of trash.” They found 1,000 nip bottles in a one-day multi-state clean up.

In addition to being unsightly, the plastic bottles can be harmful to the environment and wildlife, she said.

Drozdenko said she’s not surprised the bill didn’t make it through committee this session because they had a lot of important bills to consider.

“The conversation will be starting again and we’ll continue to work for it,” she said.

She said other bills the CRC has supported have taken several years to pan out.

“The liquor lobby is powerful,” she said. “The liquor lobby had a strong voice.”

Metzner said they will try the bill again during the next, longer legislative session in January. Meanwhile, they’re doing homework, gathering support and orchestrating a plan.

On his group’s CT Towns Nixing the “Nip” Facebook page, Metzner outlines a general plan going forward:

  • “Participate in Earth day events and highlight nip litter;
  • It’s an election year. Go to candidate forums and ask them about nips;
  • Participate in the Connecticut River Conservancy Source to Sea cleanup in September and count nips;
  • Post pictures of your nip litter on our FB page;
  • Recruit new members for our group.”

Cafero said nips were first invented to allow consumers to sample new products without buying a bigger bottle. At some point people started using them to conceal drinking and sometimes to beef up a drink in a bar or restaurant for less money.

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