O.B. moves toward nip ban

Voters will take up the proposed ban at the annual town meeting.

Oak Bluffs voters will be asked to take up an article banning the sale of "nip" bottles. — MV Times

At its Tuesday meeting, the Oak Bluffs select board took up potentially banning the sale of plastic nip bottles — bottles of alcohol under 100mL. 

Select board chair Ryan Ruley said the town has mulled over the potential nip ban for a while, and has been remotivated by Nantucket’s successful enactment of a similar restriction. Nantucket’s new bylaw aimed at reducing litter was approved overwhelmingly by voters at their annual town meeting last year, in a 496-73 vote. 

Previous attempts to ban the small alcohol bottles on Martha’s Vineyard have all failed to gain the traction needed to move forward, unlike in other towns across the commonwealth: Falmouth, Chelsea, Mashpee, Newton, and Wareham already have bans in place; a handful of other municipalities have plans to do the same. 

The amount of empty mini alcohol bottles found around town, Ruley said, is “pretty egregious,” noting that the problem does not affect just Oak Bluffs but is pervasive Island-wide.

Select board member Brian Packish agreed. “Every single Earth Day, every single cleanup day,” he said, “It’s bags and bags and bags of nip bottles [being collected],” adding that he’s even pulled up empty nip containers from pond waters when scalloping. 

Oak Bluffs resident Lynn Vera told the board that she “picked up 10 in Ocean Park while on a short walk” Tuesday afternoon; Richard Toole agreed: “I go out on the bike path every day, and it’s ridiculous,” he said.

Craig Dripps, president of the East Chop Association, extolled the board for taking steps to minimize the litter caused by nip bottles, sharing that efforts made to work with the state to push forward a bill to ban them were ultimately unsuccessful. 

Packish emphasized that looking into a potential ban “has nothing to do with alcohol … it simply has to do with litter.”

“We’ve tried everything else,” he said, including trying to enact a 5-cent deposit on the bottle sales. 

Packish recommended putting the topic in front of voters at the annual town meeting in the spring. “I think it’s going to prove to be a no-brainer,” he said. 

Select board member Gail Barmakian raised concerns regarding what could happen if Oak Bluffs moves forward with the ban without the support of all six towns, particularly given the proximity of Edgartown. “I’m just fearful everybody’s going to go to Edgartown to buy nips,” she said. “I fear for our liquor stores.” When it comes to a multi-town agreement on the matter, Barmakian said, it’s important that “everybody’s on the same boat.”

Town administrator Deborah Potter agreed, and said it’d be crucial to involve all six towns in the conversation. Given that some towns have reported issues with retailers unable to sell off their nip inventory, she said, it’d be ideal to give Island alcohol retailers an adequate amount of time to adapt to the change and reduce inventory before a potential deadline, assuming the ban passes at town meeting in the spring. “There’s no reason why we can’t at least try,” Potter said.

Also on Tuesday, the select board approved an interim internet policy, which gives the board wide-ranging authority to regulate municipal internet access. 

Per the new policy, “the town reserves the right to adjust or restrict public access outside of published business hours for specified periods, as deemed appropriate by the select board,” in addition to reserving the right to “access, review, or monitor all use of town internet access as deemed necessary and appropriate. All use of town internet service can be disclosed to law enforcement or other third parties without prior consent of the user.”

Potter said a town policy is needed, as “security of the internet and access to the internet is a serious concern.” 

Reiterating her previous statements, Barmakian stated that the policy allows the select board too much power, as access would be completely at the discretion of the select board, and the board alone. 

The policy also got pushback from library director Allyson Malik, who vehemently opposed it, and agreed with Barmakian. “I need to advocate for the library,” Malik said. “It’s a slippery slope.” 

Considering a former offer from Barmakian to try to reword the policy to make it more palatable, Malik asked the select board to allow more time for that process. Approving the policy as is, she said, “opens a door that’s not going to be possible to close later on.” 

“The select board doesn’t have total control over everything that happens in every town building,” Barmakian argued, noting that in other towns, library internet access is under the purview of the library board of trustees. She said she’d like to work on the wording of the policy and have it back to the board by its next meeting. 

Potter reminded the board members that the town’s bylaws state that “the select board has authority over all other departments and boards,” unless provisions state otherwise. Potter said in this case, the library trustees do not have the authority to dictate policy concerning internet access. 

Potter noted the policy is meant to “cover the interest of the town,” and to “fill in gaps of liability.” 

Additionally, she said, the policy is “easily adaptable and changeable, as we determine there may be a need to do so.”

The board subsequently approved the policy in a 3-1 vote, with Barmakian opposing. 

In other business, the select board approved requests for temporary business closures. 

Offshore Ale will be closed from March 6 to 15, and the Ritz is set to close from Feb. 1 to March 6.


  1. It has to do with alcoholic beverages and then the irresponsible disposal of the container.
    Why not use Photo ID and each container having an ID # like a vehicle has a vin number. Each container sold would be associated with the ID or license.
    Having a trail to the purchaser would make it so that the purchaser is financially responsible for the proper disposal.
    Community service cleaning up roads and beaches could be a great punishment along with a fine for each piece improperly disposed of.
    I don’t know who raised the litterers, but make them learn now. Financially and time might be a game changer.

    • I agree, I live in Edgartown by a bus stop and the amount of nips that get thrown onto my property is ridiculous

  2. “We’ve tried everything else,” he said, including trying to enact a 5 cent deposit on the bottle sales.
    Wow– 5 cents.
    A 5 dollar deposit per bottle might do something. But 5 cents ? That has to be some sort of Joke, right.

    I’m curious as to what else trying everything is.

    Did they try going over any specific high littering areas every morning, picking up fresh bottles and dusting them for fingerprints ? Then charging people with littering?
    Yeah. it might not be all that cost effective , but I can guarantee that if names started showing up in the court report about being busted for throwing nips out the windows of their cars, it would have some impact. My guess is this is a small group of frequent offenders.

    If Mr. Packish has not tried this, he has not even scratched the surface of trying “everything” .

  3. If you want the nip bottle littering to stop do the following:
    1. Put a $20 deposit fee on them — not a stupid nickel!
    2. Have the deposit fee automatically increase every year by 10%.
    3. Designate liquor stores that sell nips as the only places where nip deposits can be redeemed.
    4. Just to be nice, give the liquor stores a nickel out of the deposit when the customer returns the nip. You know, to compensate them for the hassle.
    5. All unredeemed deposits go into the town’s general fund.

    I guarantee you’ll never see another nip on the ground. And…most liquor stores will voluntarily stop selling them.

  4. Why can’t we apply a deposit on the bottles? 5 cents probably not enough to dramatically reduce litter, but 25 cents would do the trick I would think.

  5. How about the obvious, a ban on selling containers holding less that 1 half pint be banned for alcohol sales period. Not menitioned is the fact it is illegal to drink in your vehicle in public. Don’t forget who is buying the nips you see them at the Our Market and Your Market every day usually after work. A six pack and maybe two, four or six nips from the ice cold freezer please then drive down to the nearest water view and pound down the nips and toss them out the window. Unfortunately what i just wrote is a daily occurrence for many living and working here on this island. They can’t afford the prices in the bars, remember the old Ritz, a shot and a beer three bucks with company. That is one of the parts I find sad about this epidemic all these people drinking alone. Who is making money from the misery?

  6. I once knew a store owner in Fl which had no laws at the time “it was his own rule” that would only sell as many nips as the empties you returned.

  7. You can just buy empty nips on Amazon for 40 cents apiece and roll your own for lower overall cost. Even comes with a funnel. A ban is kind of pointless if you can get around it that easily, but I guess it will make somebody feel like they did something.

  8. People don’t care anymore. They don’t respect the beauty of the island. They are thoughtless and lazy. I ran around on M.V. since the late sixties, my Mom and Dad are buried in Edgartown and before they built some structure on every inch of the island it was a pristine place to live that was treated with respect. Ban the nips.

  9. Reading all of the pointless, useless comments on stories like this really get me wondering what exactly are the standards that determine what gets published.

    • Harrison –It certainly seems things have changed with the comment section here. Pointless, useless comments are still standing, as they should. It is not the job of the moderator to prevent people from making fools out of themselves.
      But what seems to have changed rather dramatically is the apparent “tone” of comments.
      It seems the new moderator is not only concerned with the published rules,anout profanity, name calling,etc., but seems to want the conversation to be more respectful and “touch feely” if you will.
      I don’t know, how do you be respectful to someone who comes in here sarcastically saying
      “lets make nip disposal more of a crime than illegal immigrants.”?
      No one is even talking about any new “crimes” being put on the books, let alone talking about “illegal immigrants”.
      To me, and of course it is just my opinion, a comment like that just points out that the commenter likely has a belief that the nip problem is because “illegals” are the perpetrators, and does not really care about the environmental impact of random plastic bottles littering the landscape and many of them getting into the ocean.
      But let’s be patient while the new moderator figures it all out.
      I’m sure it is not an easy job..

  10. I actually know people who enjoy the nips for the ease with which they can be carried; I hope those are not the same people who feel that my hedges are a good place for the empties! (Along with their cigarette butts; apparently there’s a party out there nearly every night.) Yes, ban the nips, I agree.

  11. Nips are a two fold problem…people buy them 99% of the time due to the size of them. Why…because you can fit them in the palm of their hand while driving without anyone noticing. Then they toss them out the window of their car. Again, the size makes it easy to do it do it to get rid of the evidence. I worked with our State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, to try and enact something, anything to work on solving this problem! We started by introducing a 5 cent deposit a few years back…and that never made it anywhere in the State legislature. Many people said 5 cents wasn’t nearly enough, but up until that point, no one had even tried to do anything. The Vineyard Times did an article on the nip story with a photo of me standing behind a huge pile of nips that I had picked up during a walk on East Chop Drive. After the story came out, our property in Vineyard Haven, at the time, became the target of nip bottles being thrown in our yard under privet hedges, almost every day. There was even a politician who warned me, not to be the “face” of this story….that I would regret it! Last year, a man named Bruce Mandel, decided enough was enough, and rallied Nantucket officials to put “banning nips” on the ballot. My best friend lives there and attending the meeting and found that there was almost no opposition to the outright banning of these nips. Since the bottle lobby is too strong for anything to happen in our Statehouse, towns on the Cape took it upon themselves to ban them. It’s more than time to have that happen here!

    • Paul–I am with you on this one.. But I doubt that 99% of the nip bottles sold wind up getting thrown out of the windows of cars.

      • He may be close to right, Don. When I was in shape and running, I was amazed at the number of empty nips around East Chop, West Chop, along Beach Rd both between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown and Oak Bluffs and Tisbury. Also along Edgartown/West Tisbury Rd and out around Katama.
        The only thing that may have been greater were coffee cups from the big three, Black Dog, Tony’s and Cumberland Farms.
        You really notice it in fall when all the hedges and bushes lose their leaves.

  12. Any bottle that has a label on it should be the responsibility of the seller/manufacturer. When it costs them money they will find a solution. Cumby’s cup, Cumby’s responsible. Smirnoff nip, the distributor. See how that goes.

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