Sale of Nips in Rhode Island Likely Illegal Already


Little Compton resident Geoff Dennis collected 362 plastic nip bottles from the town’s shoreline last year. (Courtesy photo)

The law has gone unenforced for three decades. In fact, few people walking the halls of the Statehouse or working inside the state Department of Environmental Management headquarters on the other side of I-95 even know it exists.

Like most Rhode Island environmental laws, which are celebrated when the General Assembly adopts and the governor signs, occasionally during some staged production, RIGL 23-18.12-3 was quickly forgotten.

In 1989, the Legislature passed the Beverage Container Recyclability law. It states, among other things, retailers can only sell beverages in containers that “have attained a 50% recycling rate by 1992.”

The 34-year-old law was recently brought to the attention of lawmakers by South Kingstown resident David Flanders. He and fellow Rhode Islanders have spent the past year or so trying to get those ubiquitous 50-milliliter plastic containers containing alcohol — better known as “nips” — banned.

In reality, the sale of nips in Rhode Island has likely been prohibited for the past 31 years. But enforcing the law is a challenge, since no state entity keeps track of beverage container recycling rates.

Plastic bottles that are less than 2 inches tall and 2 inches in diameter, which include most nips, are too small for the Central Landfill’s single-stream recycling sorting equipment to process, according to the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation.

“Resource Recovery advises that plastic beverage containers should carry a minimum of 2” in diameter across a minimum of 2” in height to be eligible for inclusion in the State’s mixed recycling program,” Jared Rhodes, the organization’s director of policy and programs, wrote in a recent email to ecoRI News. “Additionally we ask that, any such container always be empty and rinsed whenever possible. Otherwise Resource Recovery does not maintain datapoints on the recycling rates of specific beverage container types.”

Flanders has sent letters to Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, D-South Kingstown, Rep. Kathleen Fogarty, D-South Kingstown, and the attorney general’s office to remind them of the law. DEM is in charge of enforcement.

“It doesn’t surprise me that so few people know of this law, as so few current legislators were in those positions 34 years ago,” Flanders wrote in his recent letter to Attorney General Peter Neronha. “So, I am now appealing to you to finally enforce this much-needed legislation. My driving thought is that we are a nation of laws; and that we cannot pick and choose which of them we will obey and enforce, and those we won’t. Our system doesn’t work that way.”

Flanders told Neronha he wrote to his local representatives regarding this matter and noted “Sen. Sosnowski replied that she conferred with Senate legal counsel who confirmed that indeed, the law does state that which I interpreted. Rep. McEntee telephoned me to say that, as an attorney herself, I was correct in my interpretation. Neither of them had ever heard of this General Law.”

Flanders is a board member of the Friends of the Saugatucket, a nonprofit founded to protect the health of the Saugatucket River and its watershed. The Wakefield-based organization is at the forefront of the push to ban nips in Rhode Island.

These vessels of cheap liquor have lined the counters of package stores for decades, but during the past several years there seems to have been an explosion of nip sales, or at least of people tossing them on the ground.

Supporters of the effort to ban nips, including Pick Up Warwick, have noted these tiny plastic bottles are one of the top sources of litter being picked up along roadsides and off beaches. They also gum up wastewater treatment facilities.

During a recent conversation with ecoRI News, Flanders noted the law doesn’t make a distinction between glass and plastic beverage containers — “it’s all containers.”

Besides being an eyesore, he said, these containers get washed into storm drains that empty into local waterways, where they slowly degrade and continue to pollute for decades. He added that it’s “frustrating there is a law on the books that has been completely ignored.”

Last year, Rep. David Bennett, D-Warwick, introduced a bill that would have banned the sale of any sealable bottle, can, jar or carton that holds less than 100 milliliters (3.4 ounces) of alcohol. A nip is 1.7 ounces. The legislation was intended to reduce pollution from single-use plastics.

The bill was supported by Save The Bay, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), and Clean Ocean Access. It was held for further study.

This year, McEntee has introduced a bill (H5502) that would give a 10-cent refund for returned containers “not less than 50 milliliters nor greater than 3 liters.”

ecoRI News recently spoke with Sosnowski, who admitted she wasn’t aware of this law. She said the proliferation of nips “is causing real problems. You see them everywhere.” She believes a total ban “would be better than the law on the books.”

She told Flanders “legal counsel has contacted DEM asking for the latest report or letter on beverage containers that are not in compliance” with the law.

“What we need is not a deposit on nips; we need RIDEM to enforce this 34-year-old legislation and prohibit the sale of nips in the first place,” Flanders said.


Join the Discussion

View Comments

Recent Comments

  1. Everyone should go to their local liquor store with a copy of this article and ask them to do the right thing. . . or be reported to the DEM. And then follow up to see if the DEM has enforced the law or elected not to do the job we pay them to do.

  2. I am 100% in favor of banning nips, not only for the environmental reasons cited above, but also for their obvious relationship to drinking while driving, “toke and toss”.

  3. DEM cannot enforce this law with the low level of staffing they have. They need a much larger budget to enforce the environmental laws and they will never get it with this states government in power. The government loves to give responsibility but they never give the authority or money needed to see the laws through. Constantly passing unenforceable laws and taking credit for doing absolutely nothing to solve a problem.

  4. Kudo’s Dave Flanders and all that helped him to bring this to the attention of the General Assembly, DEM and AG Mr. Neronha!
    I hope that Representative McEntee’s proposed “Bottle Bill” passes so that we can join our abutting New England neighbors, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont and Mid-Atlantic state, New York, as it’s LONG overdue.

  5. I too, see these tiny nip bottles everywhere, it’s disheartening that so many people are such slobs. I hope this law gets a huge upgrade so liquor stores can banish these eye sores. Between these nip bottles and plastic bags, RI needs to promote some serious changes. Upgrade the litter policies as well.

  6. i dont understand i know they are all over 2″ more like 3″
    and the ban hasnt worked so yes the deposit would!
    and the drinking while driving accounts for all bottles not just nips!

  7. Walk along any road in SK and find nips on the roadside. Particularly heavy near the SK police department and along Curtis Corner Road near the police station and Asa Pond.

  8. The sale of nips seems to be almost perfectly designed to allow people to “get around” drinking and driving laws. Picking up nips DAILY from my rural road, and very frequently beer and wine bottles and cans, it seems that FAR too many people aren’t just driving drunk, but actually drinking WHILE driving. If the General Assembly doesn’t care about the environment, maybe they will care about safety?

  9. This is ridiculous. People who have no respect for community, environment or safety, its a pathetic way to live. Charge an even heavier premium for nips or ban them. What’s the purpose anyway? It promotes irresponsible/immature drinking. Come on RI liquor stores, we responsible drinkers keep you in business. Forget the nips.

  10. There has been a ban on single use plastic straws for over a year and many businesses are still not complying. It’s very upsetting.

  11. Everyone complaining about nips but nobody does anything about cigarette butts and dunkin donuts cups scattered all over the state. When stopped at a red light at a major intersection take a look out your window on the ground, hundreds maybe thousands of this crap all over the roadways, do you all think these don’t go in the storm drains? And then into the oceans? Maybe this corrupt state should make it easier to recycle ♻️ these nips.

  12. They will still come in from Massachusetts and be thrown away in RI. Save The Bay and DEM should be out cleaning up or get inmates back out cleaning up roadways since ppl don’t want to work anymore these days. You can’t rely on the ppl that buy them to be responsible enough. Maybe RI resource recovery should redesign or alter the machine that takes in recycling somehow, it’s not just nip bottles that don’t get recycled ppl throw everything in those bins sadly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your support keeps our reporters on the environmental beat.

Reader support is at the core of our nonprofit news model. Together, we can keep the environment in the headlines.


We use cookies to improve your experience and deliver personalized content. View Cookie Settings