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A Nip of Trouble: Are Tiny Liquor Bottles on Cape Roadsides More Than Just Litter?

Jennette Barnes


Nips. The miniature bottles can be a convenient way to buy a single serving of spirits. But some Cape Cod towns are joining a growing conversation about nip litter — and what all those bottles on the ground say about public health.


Jeremy Canfield of Bourne said he sees a lot of empty nips along Barlow’s Landing Road in Pocasset. On a recent walk, he pointed out a Fireball.


"That’s a pretty common one that I see alongside the road," he said.

Credit Jennette Barnes / WCAI
Empty nip bottles littered along Barlow's Landing Road in Pocasset.

Sometimes he brings a bag and picks them up, but he can’t be out there every day.


"And there’s another one. There’s at least, usually, like five or 10," he said.


Canfield is a nurse, and he said the litter also points to an issue of health and safety.


"My main concern is that people use them so they can drive drunk and not have an open container in their car that’s larger," he said.


Then they have to ditch the evidence.


"So it seems like what people are doing is they’ll buy a six pack of nips and then drink them while they’re driving, and then chuck them out the window."


Whether the main issue is litter or public health, most people seem to agree there are too many nips on the ground.


Melissa Errend noticed it right away when she moved to Falmouth two years ago after living in Washington, D.C.


"I had never seen litter like that before," she said.


She went for a run around Falmouth Harbor and saw so many nips, she thought a party must have happened.


Errend is an economist. Last spring, she and a friend started collecting and recording litter in a scientific way.


Food service trash, like cups and fast-food bags, made up the biggest category. But nips were the most numerous single item, making up nearly a third of all the trash.

"It’s astounding, the quantity of nip litter that we see," she said.


Canfield, the nurse, has asked the Board of Selectmen in Bourne to consider banning the sale of nips— something officials in Eastham and Mashpee have already talked about.


Any ban on Cape Cod would follow the city of Chelsea, which in 2018 became the first community to ban nips.


Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosinosaid that together with a new effort to promote addiction treatment, the ban is working.


"We’ve had considerable reduction in public drinking in our downtown, considerable reduction in the number of arrests for that violation ... and sort of a secondary benefit — a lot less litter in our streets," he said.


But Cape retailers say banning a product means taking an economic hit.


"We definitely don’t want to see it banned, just because it’s part of our livelihood," said Andrea Prendergast, who owns Cape Cod Package Store in Centerville with her sisters. She’s on the board of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association.


"It’s like saying to a convenience store, 'We’re going to ban cigarettes,'" she said.



And nips do have their fans.



Angela Lodico of Falmouth said she wouldn't mind a ban, but she does like to keep nips in the freezer.


"It's just easier than a big old bottle taking up half my freezer," she said.


Frank Welles of East Falmouth said they have their uses -- perhaps never more so than in the summertime.


"They get thrown into the cooler and, you know, a beer and a nip is not uncommon, rather tasty," he said.


Another option that’s gaining momentum locally is putting a deposit on nip bottles, like the one on beer and soda. Falmouth selectmen have already voted to support deposit legislation at the state level.


Janice McCluskey, for one, likes the idea. She’s a cashier at Seaside Wine and Spirits in Pocasset.


"People are going to pick them up, just like they go around and pick up cans and bottles," she said. "I think that’s the best way to handle it is with a deposit."


But for Canfield, the nurse troubled by all the nip bottles he sees on his walks, a deposit won’t be enough.


"I don’t think that somebody who’s looking at avoiding a drunk driving charge is going to think a five-cent deposit’s going to change their mind," he said.


In April, Falmouth Town Meeting will consider an article from a residents’ group called the Falmouth Litter Reduction Team that would ban liquor bottles up to 100 milliliters — what's known as a double nip.


Which for some, is a sip in the right direction.