Nipping the nip bottle problem: Easthampton resident is tackling the litter herself, using city’s ‘nip bin’

  • City Councilor At-Large Owen Zaret stands with the nip bin in front of 50 Payson Ave. in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nip bottles in the water by Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Molly Montgomery of Easthampton collects empty nip bottles at Nashawannuck Pond that she will toss in a nip bin at 50 Payson Ave. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Molly Montgomery of Easthampton picks up empty nip bottles around Nashawannuck Pond that she will toss in a nip bin at the Municipal Building on Payson Avenue. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Molly Montgomery tosses her collected nip bottles into the city’s nip bin. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/26/2022 7:00:47 AM
Modified: 2/26/2022 7:00:15 AM

EASTHAMPTON — About four times a week, Molly Montgomery sets out on a 3½-mile walk around the city. Though the route changes, there are a few constants. Among them are the number of empty miniature liquor bottles – known throughout the state as nip bottles – that have been carelessly discarded and litter roadsides, walkways, parks, and even the shores of Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton.

“They’re everywhere,” said Montgomery, who has made ridding her route of discarded nip bottles a personal mission.

All along her way, she collects the tiny bottles, stuffing them into her pockets and dropping them off in a “nip bin” that sits in front of the Municipal Building at 50 Payson Ave. She also has a container at her own house that she fills from her walks, and when that’s full, she adds those to city’s nip bin as well.

“I’m an avid recycler. The environment is something I care deeply about,” Montgomery said. “I’m just one person, but I do what I can. I’m a homeowner here and do everything with my piece of the pie here in Easthampton to keep it clean.”

The idea for the nip bin came about shortly after City Councilor At-Large Owen Zaret assumed the organizer role of the annual citywide cleanup. In working with Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and Department of Public Works Director Greg Nuttelman, a designated bin was installed in front of the Municipal Building.

“We wanted to draw attention to the ubiquitous form of litter,” Zaret said. “It’s easy to say that you see them everywhere, but we want to encourage people not to just toss trash on the ground.”

The bin, Zaret says, has helped highlight how much of an issue the problem is.

After the nip bin was installed last May, it was completely filled by December. Two months into this year, Zaret says the bin is already half full. The bin can hold approximately 2,500 nip bottles.

“It’s really great to see that our city is rallying around this,” he said.

However, now Zaret is faced with another issue: What can he do with the 2,500 nip bottles sitting at his house?

Well, not much, according to Gretchen Carey, president of the nonprofit waste reduction and recycling advocate MassRecycle.

In Massachusetts, nip bottles are not recyclable. They are too small to make it through recycling facilities and end up falling into the glass pile, where there is no way to sort them out, Carey said.

As such, many municipalities encourage people who use their disposal services to “toss them in the trash,” according to Sarah Becker, zero waste and public health campaigns associate for MASSPIRG, a statewide student-directed organization that advocates on behalf of students on issues, including the environment.

“The inability to recycle nips is a big part of the reason why we’re working to include them under Massachusetts’ deposit return system,” Becker said.

In 1983, the state passed the Beverage Container Law or “bottle bill,” which the state Department of Environmental Protection says has proven effective in controlling litter and conserving natural resources. Glass, plastic, metal, aluminum and bi-metal containers holding beer and other malt beverages, carbonated soft drinks and mineral waters are subject to the law and must carry deposit labels.

At the time the law was passed, nip bottles were considered more of a luxury item seen in settings including airplanes rather than at the checkout of every liquor store, said Neil Rhein, founder and executive director of Keep Massachusetts Beautiful.

Advocates like Becker, Carey and Rhein are supporting legislative efforts to expand the bottle bill. State Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, D-Newton, and state Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge, have introduced bills that would require a deposit on nip bottles and increase the deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents.

“Since the bottle bill gets beverage containers out of the waste/recycling stream before they end up in larger sorting facilities, the risk of contamination or improper sorting of nips goes way down,” Becker said. “Getting nips added to the bottle bill would not only cut down on litter but keep these containers out of our landfills and incinerators.”

Though expanding the bottle bill would be a step forward, Rhein says the litter is a multifaceted problem and cannot be taken care of “with one silver bullet.”

Zaret plans to work with Rhein on creating a Keep Easthampton Beautiful chapter, which will provide the city with support and guidance in maintaining a cleaner and greener city from Keep Massachusetts Beautiful. In the meantime, as the city’s nip bottle litter problem persists, Zaret plans to add another designated bin at another location in the city. Further communication regarding that will be available on the “Easthampton Beautification Team” page on Facebook.

“This is an incremental step at addressing the problem,” Zaret said. “We’re better than where we were. … We need to keep moving forward in establishing sustainable ecology.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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