2017-03-02 / Front Page

Legislator aims to clean up ‘nips’ from city streets

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer


An empty Dr. McGillicuddy’s nip bottle lay Federal Street in downtown Biddeford on Tuesday, Feb. 28. A Biddeford city employee that morning said he and his co-workers frequently find discarded nip bottles on the ground. (Garrick Hoffman photo) An empty Dr. McGillicuddy’s nip bottle lay Federal Street in downtown Biddeford on Tuesday, Feb. 28. A Biddeford city employee that morning said he and his co-workers frequently find discarded nip bottles on the ground. (Garrick Hoffman photo) BIDDEFORD – Take a stroll around a city’s downtown area in Maine and a number of tiny alcohol bottles – or “nips” – may be observed, littered throughout streets and sidewalks like discarded cigarettes. Because of this, Maine could see a 15 cent bottle deposit on the 50 milliliter bottles in about a year.

Rep. Martin Grohman, a Democrat who represents District 12 in Biddeford, has helped draft and submit a bill along with four other legislators to mitigate the issue. Other legislators co-sponsoring the bill are Anne-Marie Mastraccio (D-Sanford), Betty Austin (D-Skowhegan), Susan Austin (R-Gray), and Lance Harvell (R-Farmington).


A customer purchases a sleeve of Jack Daniels nips – 12 total – at Paul’s Variety on Alfred Street in Biddeford. A sleeve of nips will add up to $1.80 in bottle deposits if LD 56 becomes law. (Garrick Hoffman photo) A customer purchases a sleeve of Jack Daniels nips – 12 total – at Paul’s Variety on Alfred Street in Biddeford. A sleeve of nips will add up to $1.80 in bottle deposits if LD 56 becomes law. (Garrick Hoffman photo) The bill, titled “An Act To Include 50 Milliliter and Smaller Liquor Bottles in the Laws Governing Returnable Container,” or LD 56, would place a 15 cent bottle deposit on the small alcohol bottles in an effort to curb nip pollution by incentivizing people to recycle them.

Grohman said his idea for the bill materialized after Biddeford City Councilor Bob Mills told him that he frequently observed pollution problems that arose from improperly discarded nips, which have clogged storm drains and are unsightly.

Grohman, who also noticed the problem, drafted a bill and met with other legislators who had also drafted their own bills. They combined ideas into one bill, becoming LD 56, and it has since been through a public hearing and a work session before the Environment and Natural Resource Committee, which oversees the law with recycled containers in Maine.


An empty nip bottle of Absolut vodka by the mural on the wall of New Morning Natural Foods in downtown Biddeford. A bill to place a 15 cent deposit on the small liquor bottles, LD 56, was passed by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Monday, Feb. 27 and will go to the House Floor for a vote. (Garrick Hoffman photo) An empty nip bottle of Absolut vodka by the mural on the wall of New Morning Natural Foods in downtown Biddeford. A bill to place a 15 cent deposit on the small liquor bottles, LD 56, was passed by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Monday, Feb. 27 and will go to the House Floor for a vote. (Garrick Hoffman photo) “The bill as we have it has a 15 cent deposit, since all other liquor is 15 cents,” Grohman said. “My thoughts are, even if the committee comes to the place where it can be 5 cents, it can be a compromise.”

Grohman said he’d like the bottling industry to have an adequate amount of time to implement the necessary measures following passage of the bill, if it were to pass. He said it could be a year or 18 months before the effects are fully phased in, giving redemption centers time to become accustomed to the changes, since there could be challenges for them.

“Since (nips) are so small, the bags we use today to collect bottles at redemption centers may be too large – they’ll hold too many bottles and be too heavy,” Grohman wrote in a Feb. 23 editorial to the Courier. “It is also my understanding that services such as Clynk do not today have equipment that can handle the small containers, and reverse vending machines cannot accept them.”

The most onerous task would be getting the label on the bottles, Grohman said. The Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, which oversees sales of all liquor in Maine, projects 12 million nips will be sold in 2017, Grohman said. Because of the volume of nips sold, hand-placing deposit stickers for them – which is done on wine bottles in Maine – would create a task that would be tedious, time-consuming and costly for Pine State Trading Co., the company that distributes and sells liquor in Maine. To avoid this, Grohman said he would like to see collaboration with the bureau to create time to allow for preprinted labels on nips.

Costs to implement the 15 cent redemption could exceed $1 million for Pine State, said Greg Mineo, director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages, in a testimony before the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on Feb. 1.

The foreseen costs for Pine State include all fees for redemption, additional staff to break down packaging, affixing bottle redemption stickers to existing inventory in its warehouse, and equipment and material to re-package the 50 milliliter bottles for sale, Mineo said.

The result could be damaging for the Maine Municipal Bond Bank, which receives funds from the spirits business’ profit for the repayment of revenue bonds, which are used for repayment of hospital debt, Mineo said.

“Any significant decrease in the bureau’s operating profit could jeopardize the funds needed for the (Maine Municipal Bond Bank) without any significant increase in sales to off-set this additional bottle redemption expense,” Mineo said.

Republican Sen. Tom Saviello of District 17, which covers all municipalities and unorganized territories in Franklin County and four towns in Kennebec County, is chairman for the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He said an option would be to amend the contract that Pine State Beverage has with the state to have retailers attach the labels at the point of sale, instead of forcing the distributor to attach them.

Regardless of what solutions are implemented, however, Saviello said the 15 cent deposit could be beneficial.

“We can’t solve drinking and driving with the deposit, we can’t solve behavior, but we can solve the litter problem,” Saviello said.

Reactions in Biddeford to the possible change have been mixed thus far.

Gee Singh, an owner at Paul’s Variety on Alfred Street, worries that it could hurt his business. Paul’s Variety offers a bottle redemption service and sells nips.

“People don’t want to spend that 15 cents on (nips),” he said.

As a customer bought a sleeve of Jack Daniels nips on Wednesday, Feb. 22, Singh asked the customer whether he would still buy them if a 15 cent deposit was placed on it, and the customer said yes.

Though Singh could not immediately quantify the sale of nips, he said it is significant.

Robert DiPietrantonio, one of the owners of 3D’s Variety on Main Street, said the measure would be a good way to curb pollution, though he worries people would still improperly discard nips. He also said nips sales are significant.

“Maybe people won’t throw them all over the place . . . but I think you’ll still see some,” DiPietrantonio said. “I don’t think it would slow (my business) down.”

Ron Connolly, owner of Coastal Discount Beverage & Redemption on Elm Street, said he’s not worried about the measure, though his business does not sell nips.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect my business one way or the other; if anything it’ll help my business,” Connolly said. “It’ll bring people in. I’m not sure about the people who sell it . . . but the more the merrier for me.”

The Environmental and Natural Resources Committee passed the bill by a vote of 7-2 Feb. 27, though this figure may change since those who were absent have 24 hours to vote, Grohman said. He anticipates the bill will still pass.

Next the bill will go to the House floor for a vote, where it will likely pass, Grohman said. From there it will go to the Senate, where it will also likely pass but may face a veto.

“Do we have the votes to override? I’m not sure,” Grohman said. “It’s an important issue and the litter is a real problem.”

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