Islandwide nip ban approved

The ban will go into effect May 1, 2024.

Oak Bluffs town moderator Jesse Law III. –Abigail Rosen


At their respective annual town meetings Tuesday evening, voters in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown approved a new bylaw prohibiting the sale of nips — single-use containers of alcohol under 100mL. 

Oak Bluffs and Edgartown are the only towns on the Vineyard that sell the miniature bottles. The ban, which will go into effect in the beginning of May next year, was first recommended to town select boards in an effort to mitigate pervasive littering. 

Supporters of the ban have also emphasized the importance of cutting down, and eventually doing away with, single-use containers and plastics. 

Despite the ban having been on the town’s radar for nearly a decade, the newest iteration of the conversation follows Nantucket’s successful enactment of a similar restriction.

Nantucket’s new bylaw aimed at reducing litter was approved overwhelmingly by voters at its annual town meeting in 2022. 

Previous attempts to ban the small alcohol bottles on Martha’s Vineyard had 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. 

Tuesday’s bylaw approval now has Oak Bluffs and Edgartown as part of that initiative.

In Oak Bluffs, the warrant article proposing the bylaw passed overwhelmingly, with no discussion and no more than three opposers. However, per the language of the proposed bylaw, the ban would only take effect if an identical article presented to Edgartown voters also passed. 

Around an hour after Oak Bluffs’ vote, the ban was officially approved through majority support in Edgartown. 

Edgartown voters had a lengthy discussion over banning nips — including a few proposed amendments that failed. But ultimately the proposal passed with a voice vote, overwhelmingly enough not to need a hand count.

A representative of MV Wine and Spirits proposed limiting the nip ban to just plastic bottles, rather than both glass and plastic. The amendment was heartily shot down.

Edgartown resident James Joyce proposed an amendment that would carry the ban beyond liquor bottles to all small plastic bottles, like energy drinks. But that was shot down after concerns were raised about the impact to healthcare.

A motion to indefinitely postpone the article by proponents of the industry failed as well.

Edgartown resident Jim Oakes said he favored the ban for the amount of trash nips generate. “My wife and I pick up a couple hundred nips twice a year,” Oakes said, and the audience erupted with applause.

Some voters did ask if there was any study done to look at the impact on alcohol consumption, suggesting that patrons might just buy larger bottles of liquor and drink more. But Edgartown voters heard enough, and voted the article through.

Some opponents also asked town moderator Steve Ewing if there was still a quorum at town meeting before the vote. At the beginning of town meeting, the moderator wasn’t able to call a quorum until a half-hour after the initial start time. But Ewing said there was still a quorum, and the vote went through.

Sam Houghton contributed to this report.


    • Jim– I don’t really mind paper cups. They will degrade in a few years.Some people are total a-holes and will throw anything out of their cars–
      And what would the alternative to paper cups be ?
      Really, Jim– give us an alternative that would be acceptable for you , other than sitting in a restaurant. — Are you suggesting that we should ban take out coffee ?

      I say we go after styrofoam cups next.

      • If you’re going to ban tiny liquor bottles because of the unsightliness of mass quantities of them lying in the bushes, then yes, go after paper(and Styrofoam) cups. The only thing you see more of along the side of the road then nip bottles are paper cups. And yes, the do biodegrade, but it doesn’t happen over night. And people are throwing them out the window faster then they biodegrade.
        As far as how do you get coffee to go, I hear that there’s a bunch of crunchy old hippies and save the Earth millennials that bring their own refillable mugs. That might catch on if we can figure out how to make people aware it’s a thing.

        • Jim– all coffeeshops give a pretty good discount for a refill. What more can they do ? I think pretty much everyone is aware of that.
          I agree about the cups–it’s hard to fix stupid and you can’t have enough police to enforce litter laws. I think most a-holes that do this don’t do it while a police cruiser is behind them.
          I have said it before, but I think most of the litter on the island comes out of the back of open pick up trucks. People finish their coffee on a construction site and just toss it in the back– It’s not really intentional, it’s just a case of clueless.
          One thing for sure, the ban on plastic bags has certainly been successful.

        • Well, most people have learned to bring their own bags to the grocery store so I suppose it’s possible.

          • Jessica — when we were debating the ban on single use plastic bags, I would regularly count 20 to 30 of them trapped in the beach grass along beach road between O.B and Edgartown.
            How about taking a count the next time you go there ? I think it’s pretty clear it worked.

          • What makes you think I disapprove of a nip ban? I was commenting on Jim writing that “crunchy old hippies” bring their own refillable mugs to the coffee shop. You don’t see the comparison there? You said yourself the plastic bag ban worked. Why argue with someone who is not arguing with you?

          • Jessica– I took your comment to imply that it was “possible” that the plastic bag ban was doing what it was intended to do. Sorry I took your comment the wrong way.

      • Come on Don, let’s go for it all. Mandatory bring-your-own ceramic mugs. Now that kind of control is something you could get behind.

        • John– nope– Not my kind of control.
          What I can get behind is the public sector being restricted by local government intervention to give stupid people fewer choices to do things that damage our environment.
          Let me cite the clean water act that ended the practice of companies dumping toxic waste into rivers. That clearly resulted in the end of rivers catching fire.
          How about the ban on lead paint and leaded gasoline ?

          May I remind you that this nip ban, along with the ban on plastic bags, small plastic bottles and the smoking ban inside public places were all voted on by the people ?
          I don’t know about you, but I happen to respect the will of the people, and actually believe in democracy.

  1. I have picked up hundreds of nips on the chop
    So this is great. Maybe the return deposit for beer cans and sodas should be a lot more than a nickel. Then maybe they would stop throwing them out the car window also.
    Also what can be done with folks picking up their dog poop but then leaving the bag on the ground or in the bushes. Why bother?

  2. The sad part is, realistically this is just going to drive the buying of these small sized underground. The packages are still available off island and plenty of people will do what they do with groceries here, and buy off island. There will be plenty of “Entrepreneurs” who will then resell these sizes and in the end it doesn’t address the problem!
    I would love to hear from the police departments in OB and Edgartown when the last littering ticket was written. Rather than attack the symptom (nips on the side of the road.) let’s attack the root cause (a small group who toss anything and everything out of their car.). I see plenty of cans, bottles, plastic containers of all sizes on the side of the road, what if we banned all those as well?
    What is lacking here is the will to enforce already existing laws i.e. littering.

    • There’s no need to bootleg nips. They only banned 50ml bottles, but you can still sell 100ml bottles. Many brands are packaged in 100ml bottles, including Fireball, which seems to be the tipple of choice for many of the nips aficionados. So they can still achieve their goal of a discrete bottle that can be tossed out the window to avoid an open container citation – they just have to have two shots instead of one.
      The ban could have set the lower limit at half pint bottles, but it didn’t, so get ready to start seeing quarter pint bottles thrown into the bushes by a slightly drunker litterer. Bans always seem to come with unintended consequences.

      • Bert– you got that one right–
        The people who want to have a bit of a hit on their way home after work will certainly shift to the quarter pint.
        My guess is the liquor stores will be the main beneficiary of this law.

    • Having been around when the Bottle Bill went into effect in the early 1980s, I don’t believe that bans are the best way to go. Remember what happened back then? Soda and beer bottles and cans pretty much disappeared off the roadways — and it wasn’t because litterers shaped up and stopped tossing stuff out the window. It happened because the 5¢ deposit gave people an incentive to pick those bottles and cans up and redeem them. Kids augmented their allowance, neighborhood projects got funded, and the roadsides got clean(er). So I suggest that instead of implementing bans that will be widely ignored and hard to enforce, we push for increasing the required deposit and extending the bill to cover containers of non-carbonated beverages, including nip bottles and full-size wine and liquor bottles.

        • even at 50 cents, most people will not bother to take them back.
          My guess is that that some people will have some sort of impression that they will be perceived as poor.
          Plus, it takes time to go into some dingy bottle redemption center and touch your “trash”. There used to be a little dumpster at the BFI facility ( now Bruno’s) by the weigh station. Lucy would deal them all and it helped fund her trips to Vietnam where she helped orphanages. I don’t know why that stopped, but Lucy was unhappy with it.

    • Underground nip business? Seriously? What’s most likely going to happen is people will start buying half pints instead of 6 nips. On the plus side, it’ll only be 1/6th the litter when people start chucking those out the window.

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