The scourge of tiny discarded nip bottles on the sides of Martha’s Vineyard streets continues to be a huge problem, yet more than year after a bill was introduced that could help alleviate the trash, there’s still been no legislative action.
“I could go to East Chop Drive right now and pick up 500,” said Paul Doherty, a Vineyard Haven resident who helped shine the light on the issue of the small, discarded alcohol bottles last year as part of an Earth Day initiative. “I know the hot spots, places I could go and fill up a monster trash bag of nip bottles in an hour.”
Doherty is frustrated by the lack of action, but was happy to learn that the slow-moving bill is still wending its way through the State House.
Rep. Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich, the main sponsor of the bill, which would impose a five cent deposit on nips, said the bill is now in the hands of the House Ways and Means Committee after getting a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, of which he is a member. If it gets a favorable report from House Ways and Means before July 31, it could go to a full vote of the legislature, he said.
In an email to fellow legislators, Hunt asked them to send a letter of support for H3528 to the committee by Friday. He distributed a copy of a Cape Cod Times editorial project that highlighted trash issues on the peninsula, wrapped around information on the nip bottle bill, and with a plastic bag. He asked his colleagues to spend 90 seconds in their communities looking for discarded nip bottles and to return them to him in the bag.
“The idea is if you can’t find two spent nip bottles in 90 seconds, you’re either not paying attention or you’re not from Massachusetts,” Hunt said. The bottles he gets will be used for a display at the State House to demonstrate the need for a deposit.
He is hoping to get as many colleagues as possible to sign a letter of support and to email the chairman and vice chairman of House Ways and Means. “We want to get a lot of people to push on this,” he said.
There’s been bipartisan support, Hunt said. Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, the House speaker pro tempore, has lent her name to the cause, allowing Hunt to email other legislators with her email forwarded.
Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, who represents the Island, is also an ardent supporter. “People across the state are coming out of winter hibernation and noticing nip bottles carelessly strewn on their walking trails, bike paths, and roadways, and at the State House I’ve joined Sandwich Rep. Randy Hunt in renewing our push for a deposit on nip bottles,” Fernandes wrote in an email. “Frankly, I think we should ban single-use plastics because they are overflowing our landfills and devastating our ocean ecosystems, but moving forward on a nip deposit is a good step in reducing litter and promoting recycling.”
If the bill doesn’t get voted on by the July 31 deadline when the legislature effectively ends its formal sessions for the year, Hunt will bring it back in January.
The five cents would be an addition to the original bottle bill, which puts a five cent deposit on soda and beer in the hopes that people won’t toss nickels either into the trash stream or, worse, on the sides of roads. The deposits on bottles and cans have created a cottage industry for some who fill bags and take them to redemption centers for the refunds tossed aside by others.
Hunt said his proposal has met with pushback from some nip manufacturers, and even some redemption centers, who say they would need a bigger share of the five cents in order to separate out the tiny bottles.
“Maine has already done it, so we’re not setting a precedent anymore,” Hunt said.
Doherty said he’s come to be associated with picking up the little bottles, with some dubbing him “the Nip Guy.” “I don’t want that on my gravestone,” he said with a laugh.
He also faced some backlash, with with empties being tossed in his yard after he was featured in The Times. “I’m pissing off some people, but so what?” he said. “My interest hasn’t waned at all. I think there are more than ever.”
Doherty said as bad as the problem is on-Island, it’s even worse on Cape Cod. On a recent visit to Falmouth, he had to walk to the Palmer Avenue lot, and saw hundreds of discarded nip bottles before he stopped counting on the three-mile walk.
Old enough to remember the classic commercial of a Native American actor with a tear streaming down his face as litter piled up on the side of the road, Doherty wondered if an updated advertising campaign might help.
“It was so powerful,” Doherty said. “I wish to God they’d bring that back.”
Hunt remains hopeful the bill will get support and become law. “I still think we have half a shot at it,” he said. “That’s a terrible pun.”