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Fewer nip bottles litter towns that ban them

"I'm not a fan of bans," says Cape Cod Anti-Litter Coalition president Meg Morris, whose nonprofit reports a spike in litter since last year. "But when people won't manage their own behavior, sometimes that's the direction that you have to take."

More liquor nips and plastic water bottles are cluttering Cape Cod beaches and roads than this time last year.

Volunteer groups in April also collected more cigarette butts and construction debris during Earth Day sweeps. In Brewster alone, teams on April 23 recovered 22,153 pieces of litter, according to the Cape Cod Anti-Litter Coalition.

But towns like Falmouth and Mashpee that ban the sale of nips reported fewer discarded miniature bottles this year, says Cape Cod Anti-Litter Coalition president Meg Morris.

"Bans do work," she says. "It has to be a change in people's mindset about why it's important not to foul your own nest."

Morris chairs Brewster's Recycling Commission and is a recipient of MassRecycle's Lifetime Commitment Award.

Patrick Flanary: I'd love to know more about the Anti-Litter Coalition and the scope of your group's recent work. How widespread was the litter collection?

Meg Morris, president, Cape Cod Anti-Litter Coalition: Every town in the spring does their own town cleanup. We had 65 different categories that we asked people to use to identify litter. And of those categories only six of them went down from last year. The one that we were very interested in was the nip bottles. We had about a thousand more nips this year than we did last year.

PF: Falmouth and Mashpee are among the towns that have banned nips, and others like Brewster are looking at it. Regulation sometimes frustrates people, but is it effective?

MM: Yes, it is. They have found fewer nips. I know we don't count them all; I know we don't capture them all. I'm not a fan of bans. I really don't like bans. But when people won't manage their own behavior, sometimes that's the direction that you have to take. Bans do work.

PF: Sandwich and Mashpee are not going to enforce the ban on sales of plastic water bottles as they had planned to a year ago. Is it going to make a difference?

MM: What happened in these towns is people looked at it from the perspective of good water. And so I think people are afraid that, if they don't buy bottled water, which has some semblance of security for them, they will cease drinking water, which is not good. And so that's sort of the mindset: "Why didn't you ban soda? Why water?" And I think it was because there were so many water bottles all over the place. Even in Brewster, the count did go up. We had more water bottles than we had the year before.

PF: Why are we still littering? As kids we were taught not to do it.

MM: It hasn't been taught. I grew up with it, and I was in college when we had the infamous [1971] Crying Indian commercial, which was so powerful and was sort of what got me into the environmental field. We grew up with "Give a Hoot! Don't Pollute." And this is one of the things that has not happened in decades.

All of us with the anti-litter groups have been pushing for the Cover the Load issue. Cover the Load was about the big garbage trucks and the big recycling trucks. What we really needed to include are pickup trucks. That's where we're getting a lot of the smaller construction debris, like the five-gallon pails and wrapping from shingles that have flown out of the back of a pickup truck. We have sent letters out to landscapers and contractors and said, "Look, you guys are out there. Your livelihood is having people come and having Cape Cod look beautiful."

PF: I think Cape Cod and I think, we're aware of PFAS, we're aware of water quality, we're aware of litter. Where do we rank with the rest of the Commonwealth right now?

MM: Hard to say. I judge us by Route 6, and Route 6 is about as bad as I-495. We should have and take more pride in what our roadsides look like. It has to be a change in people's mindset about why it's important not to — to use the bird term — foul your own nest.