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Groton Conservation Commission surveys community on tiny liquor bottles

Groton — Does the community think tiny liquor bottles are creating a litter problem?

That’s one of the questions the Groton Conservation Commission is posing in a new poll of residents and business owners to find out if they would support a potential statewide ban on small liquor bottles, or nips, Chairman Larry Dunn said.

“The Town of Groton is interested in getting your input on a potential bill proposal to ban tiny liquor bottles, also known as Nips, in the State of Connecticut,” the survey introduction states. The nonprofit organization Environment and Human Health Inc. is working on a draft bill that it hopes to have sponsored and introduced in the upcoming legislative session, it says. "In the event the bill is introduced, your input will be helpful in considering whether the Town of Groton should support the bill.”

The survey, available at surveymonkey.com/r/TCCGJS8, asks people whether they support the elimination of nips and if they back state legislation to ban nips statewide. It also asks respondents to identify if they are a resident of Groton, a business owner selling bottled liquor or a business owner serving liquor directly to customers.

EHHI is “dedicated to protecting human health from environmental harms through research, education and the promotion of sound public policies,” said Patricia Taylor, director of the organization's Plastics and Waste Project. It plans to ask state legislators to ban the sale of miniature liquor bottles, of 100 ml or less, in Connecticut and also is contacting organizations and municipal boards for support, she said. 

Bruce Lofgren, a planner for the town, said that when Groton was seeking feedback last year on a proposed polystyrene and plastic reduction ordinance, which went into effect in October 2020, the town heard from people who thought nips should be banned.

Nips were not included in the town’s ordinance but when EHHI recently reached out to ask if Groton would support its efforts in seeking a statewide ban, the Conservation Commission decided to find out where the public in town stands on the issue, Lofgren said. The commission plans to present the results of the survey to the Town Council, which would then have that information if it ultimately wants to make a recommendation either for or against supporting a potential state bill, he said.

Dunn said the commission will have to wait to see if state legislators take up the issue, but wanted to gather information from the public in advance.

Will Healey, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said by email that nips bottles currently do not have a deposit on them, and though made of glass or plastic — both recyclable materials — they are not easy to recycle due to their size.

He said a few proposals in recent years to expand the state’s bottle bill — some that included adding deposits on nip containers — have not moved forward. He said if nip bottles were added to the legislation, the existing infrastructure of reverse vending machines are not capable of processing nip-sized bottles, so manual redemption would be the only option.

Taylor said by email that EHHI is seeking the ban because the organization is concerned about the impact of chemicals in plastic on human health, and nips are increasingly made from plastic. “Nips cannot be redeemed in reverse vending machines that handle other bottle redemptions, and they are often tossed empty into our streets as litter,” she said. “From there, they travel to our shorelines and waterways. Nips are not necessary, and they add enormously to municipal solid waste streams, so EHHI says it's best to ban them.”

EHHI also is pushing for an expansion of the bottle bill to include juice, iced tea and sports drink bottles, and increasing the bottle deposit fee from 5 cents to 10 cents, Taylor said.

“The most important thing the legislature could do to reduce the trash in Connecticut is to expand the bottle bill,” EHHI President Nancy Alderman said, adding that nips should be banned outright.

Eugenia Villagra, co-chair of Groton Conservation Advocates, a local nonprofit focused on protecting Groton’s natural resources, agreed that the miniature bottles are often tossed behind liquor stores, along roads and in parking lots and they end up in storm drains — potentially clogging them — and from there ultimately make their way to waterways.

GCA is reaching out to liquor store owners to get their feedback on the proposal. Villagra said reactions from the liquor stores she approached have been mixed. They range from being angry about a potential ban, to being cooperative, to feeling conflicted because a potential ban could mean a significant loss of revenue. Stores also could lose customers if people blame them for the nip problem. But she said all the businesses agreed to take the survey to make sure their views will be taken into account.

Several liquors stores that The Day contacted either did not immediately respond to a request for comment or declined to comment.

The Associated Press reported that the state’s liquor industry partnered with Live Green CT last year to cut down on litter, announcing in March 2020 “the retail portion of its 'Don't Trash Connecticut - Nip it in the Bin!'” campaign, which “will focus on signage at retail locations, urging consumers to properly dispose of the bottles.”

Conrad Heede, who serves on the nine-member Groton Town Council and wanted to add his voice to the survey, said he supports a total ban on both plastic and glass nip bottles. He said he walks his neighborhood every day and picks up plastic trash. He said a ban would be more effective than a bottle deposit because, based on nips littering the corners of parking lots and on streets, he suspects some people are drinking and driving and don't want to have an open bottle in the car if they get pulled over.

“While adding NIPS to the bottle bill and requiring a (5 cent) deposit may encourage more people to pick them up and turn them in, it will not stop the waste at the source and it does nothing to prevent driving under the influence of alcohol,” he wrote in an email. “To achieve the greater good of public safety and also reduce the amount of plastic waste tossed out the windows of cars, the best solution is to ban NIPS outright.”

Jim Furlong of Groton Conservation Advocates, who also picks up litter in Groton, added that nips are “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of litter. He said anti-littering signs and fines also are important in cutting down on the problem.

k.drelich@theday.com

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