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Pittsfield Leaders Want State To Cap Nip Bottle Pollution

A small, crushed plastic bottle of Fireball whiskey sits on asphalt
Josh Landes
A nip bottle on the streets of Pittsfield

The Pittsfield City Council is calling on the Massachusetts State Legislature to take action on a very specific kind of pollution.

Back in the throes of the council’s debate over a citywide plastic bag ban, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi – a skeptic of the ban – claimed a different scourge poses a bigger threat to Pittsfield.

“The number one thing that I see is not plastic bags on the ground or in areas," said Morandi. "I see nip bottles, plastic nip bottles. So to me, that’s something that is more of a problem certainly than plastic bags.”

An amended version of the bag ban will go into effect in January 2020, and with that debate in the rearview mirror, the council has turned its attention to the very nips Morandi identified.

“I bring this forward tonight kind of in the wake of our debate about the plastic bag ban, and in particular about the policy debate over the words ‘may’ and ‘shall’ implementing a nickel charge per bag," said Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo. He’s referring to a major sticking point the council encountered in the bag ban debates: whether the city should demand businesses charge a fee for bag use in stores once the ban takes effect. Ultimately, the council compromised with critics of the fee and made it optional by changing the word “shall” to “may,” angering some proponents of the original language.

“It occurred to me that that was a really good exercise in using a market-based instrument to kind of further environmental policy," said Caccamo. "Other market-based instruments for environmental policy would be tradable permits, market barrier reductions, government subsidy reductions, and a pollution charge which is what the 1982 bottle bill essentially is. You’re charged for potentially polluting, and if you return those bottles you’re not polluting and therefore return on your investment.”

Like Morandi, Caccamo had his own story of confronting the mini alcohol bottles littered across Pittsfield.

“I was on a recent walk around the Silver Lake walking path, and just from end to end was covered in nip bottles,” he told the council.

The councilor noted two pieces of legislation currently making their way through the statehouse that would put a 5 cent deposit on nips.

“So there’s House bill 2881 and the accompanying senate bill which is the same language – S.452 – which is simply to expand the 1982 bottle bill – and I included the language, it’s really just altering the definitions to include miniatures, or nip bottles, into that,” explained Caccamo.

Democratic state Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of the 3rd Berkshire District, which constitutes most of Pittsfield, is among the bill’s 76 co-sponsors.

Caccamo noted that an attempt from the last iteration of the state legislature failed to move a similar bill out of subcommittee into law. He then presented his colleagues with a chance to influence a larger conversation about nips with a resolution from the city calling on the state to follow through on the new effort to expand a bottle deposit to miniatures.

“I noticed that a few other communities have taken votes on the same resolution," said the councilor. "This is borrowed language from these communities. Salem, Bridgewater, and Woburn are recent communities that have taken a vote up or down on accepting a nip bottle resolution, so I’m hopeful that if more communities pass this resolution it would help move the legislation to the desk of the governor and we can start to combat this problem with nips and in our parks."

Caccamo’s nip resolution passed unanimously.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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