RI nip bottle ban won't get a vote this year


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Nov 18, 2023

RI nip bottle ban won't get a vote this year

Rhode Island's search for a cure to the litter problem caused by the thousands

Rhode Island's search for a cure to the litter problem caused by the thousands of carelessly thrown away bottles, including the tiny liquor containers known as "nips," will go on for at least another year.

Despite months of advocacy for a deposit plan on all bottles, or one targeted only at nips, General Assembly leaders have agreed to study the issue over the summer instead of bringing one of the existing bills to a vote.

"The House and Senate have agreed to form a joint study commission that will take a comprehensive look during the off session at how to best handle all plastic waste and make recommendations to the General Assembly next year," House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio wrote in a joint email to the Journal.

"Much more detail is needed about how bottle bills are working in other states before we consider such significant legislation. We want to hear from states like Maine and Oregon, where there are robust programs, and learn from their models. We need to gather input from the environmental community, producers, distributors, store owners, consumers, the Department of Environmental Management, Rhode Island Resource Recovery and many others."

The decision to study a hotly debated topic instead of passing a law on it is often seen as casting an issue into political purgatory.

That's not necessarily the case, and in recent years some issues have emerged from study commissions with successful legislation. Land use permitting reform and shoreline access could become new examples this month.

More in nips:RI's Great Nip Pickup Challenge nets 85,800 tiny bottles. Would a 10¢ deposit stop the littering?

"Obviously, we’d prefer a bill get passed, but short of that a study commission is the next best outcome," said Jed Thorp, state director of Clean Water Action, which has pushed for a deposit bill on all bottles. "It is a very complicated issue, and the legislative process doesn't lend itself well to figuring out complicated policy issues. ... I think we made a lot of progress this year We elevated the profile of the issue and forced lot of legislators to think about it."

Part of the challenge facing anti-litter advocates is the question of whether to target all beverage bottles or just nips.

As the small plastic bottles containing inexpensive booze have grown in popularity, they've become a common source of litter and outrage.

Last year a proposed ban on nips appeared to have some legs before ultimately falling short in both chambers.

Nips manufacturers promised to develop a new nip bottle that could be recycled by Rhode Island Resource Recovery, but it is unclear what progress has been made.

This year, instead of bans, litter fighters focused on deposit bills, which would attach a small charge to each bottle that customers would get back when they return the bottle for recycling.

One set of bills generally referred to as "bottle bills" would target all beverage containers. Another set would attach a deposit just to nips.

"On the one hand, the problem with nips has been helpful because it is such a clear, obvious issue. People see it in their communities, and it has elevated the profile of the problem," Thorp said. "Then, on the flip side, it almost clouds people's view of the bigger picture, and they think just nips are the problem."

The bottle bills, introduced by Sen. Bridget Valverde and Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, would levy a 10-cent deposit on all containers sold at retail, which customers would get back when they return it to the seller. Retailers would then return containers, through distributors, to manufacturers for recycling.

The nips bills, introduced by Sen. Josh Miller and Rep. David Bennett, would create larger deposits just for nips. Bennett's version called for a 25-cent deposit, while Miller's would have set a 50-cent deposit.

Rhode Island liquor stores, beverage distributors and liquor manufacturers all came out in force against the nip deposit bill.

"Deposit laws can be inefficient solutions to waste, because they require consumers to take dirty bottlesback to a retail store or reclamation center," Kellie Duhr, vice president of government affairs for Sazerac, the maker of Fireball whisky, wrote in committee testimony. "It seems costly and unnecessary to encourage residentsand businesses to recycle the majority of their consumer product packaging where trash is also collectedand then incentivize an entirely separate system for beverage containers."

Liquor stores, such as 1776 Liquors in Bristol, wrote that a nip deposit would drive customers to Massachusetts, which has a 5-cent deposit on containers for beer and carbonated beverages, but not for nips.

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