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Is Boston capable of doing more than one thing at a time? Opinions seemed to vary at hearing on proposed ban on tiny booze bottles

Flaherty holds 'crack and meth pack'

Flaherty with a "meth and crack pack" he pulled out of his jacket pocket.

City officials from Chelsea traveled across the Mystic today to tell Boston city councilors how a ban on 50-mil liquor bottles has meant fewer drunken incidents for police and EMTs to respond to and cleaner and even safer streets.

But City Councilor Michael Flaherty (at large) wasn't having it. At a hearing today, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out what he called "a four-needle pack, a meth and crack PACK" that Boston public-health workers give out at Mass and Cass and said the city should show more concern about the health risks posed to children and other park goers from discarded needles before worrying about all the tiny glass and plastic bottles that can be found pretty much everywhere across Boston.

"The goal of attaining a cleaner planet through litter removal is admirable," but not if it means student athletes have to avoid some field for fear of getting jabbed by a needle.

City Councilor Kendra Lara (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury), however, questioned why Flaherty seemed fixated on needles, as if a large city like Boston could not address two issues at once. Referring to the council in particular, she said, "I think as a body we can walk and chew gum at the same time and so our interest in this issue does not negate our interest in other issues."

Still, Flaherty persisted. He pressed Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, on whether getting jabbed by a discarded, used needle is potentially more of a health risk than getting jabbed with a broken glass bottle and she acknowledged it was. But she continued that she would love to see the council and mayor appropriate more money for needle cleanups and said the city doesn't just give out needles for the heck of it, that clean needles are "harm reduction" and not only help protect their users from diseases such as AIDS, Hepatitis C and endocarditis but reduce the odds of communicable diseases being spread through needle use. She said Boston has long been a leader in running needle exchanges as a public-heath measure.

In response to a series of questions from City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo (Hyde Park, Roslindale, Mattapan), who proposed banning the sale of small bottles, Ojikutu said that unlike needles, the distribution of tiny liquor bottles does nothing to stop the spread of any diseases. Arroyo says that banning a type of alcohol-delivery package used by alcoholics in particular would help battle alcoholism and the diseases and problems it causes - from cirrhosis to domestic abuse. He noted that Boston already has at least 70 liquor stores that do not sell 50-ml bottles, under a policy started by Mayor Walsh, in which proposed operators of new stores or who want to buy existing licenses are asked to agree to a ban as part of their license.

Chelsea Police Chief Keith Hougton and former City Councilor Roy Avellaneda told Boston councilors that their city's 2018 ban on the bottles has been nothing short of revolutionary: The number of alcohol-related police calls had dropped significantly, panhandlers no longer line Broadway seeking enough change to rush into a liquor store to buy another tiny bottle and as a result, downtown Chelsea is beginning to bloom again as everybody else no longer fears walking its streets.

Avellaneda said local meals tax receipts are up as people go out to eat there again. Houghton said he is no longer worried about taking his own children along the Broadway corridor. And no local liquor stores have closed.

Avellenada said banning the small bottles is as much a public-health measure as handing out clean needles, because they are a cheap supply for alcoholics. "What does it say about our society, just walking by all these bottles and not sharing similar outrage (as to spent needles)?" he asked. "We should be just as outraged" by all the minis and what they represent, he said. "It's the same thing."

They were joined in testimony by Jason Owens, a Chelsea city "navigator" who tries to help local alcoholics get into treatment, and who explained the problem with the small bottles during his 18 months as a bouncer at West End Johnnie's on Portland Street near North Station: Women, in particular, would walk in with the tiny bottles on Friday and Saturday night, go into the ladies' room, down their bottles, toss them into the toilets, then exit completely "legless" even as they avoided paying for the bar's pricier drinks.

Owens testifies:

Jason Owens

Victoria Gall of Hyde Park testified repeated volunteer efforts by her and other Hyde Park residents to Keep Hyde Park Beautiful in part by collecting the bottles have largely come to naught - not because it's not easy to collect bottles but because they keep showing up. A couple years ago, volunteers collected 10,000 of them in Hyde Park.

Victoria Gall

Gall said earlier this year, she collected 333 of the things in just 90 minutes at five locations from Wolcott Square to Egleston Square - at train stations, in the middle of Truman Parkway, in a parking lot in Roslindale. The one thing all the sites had in common: They were near liquor stores.

"We are disheartened and have cleanup fatigue, she said.

Steve Rubin, owner of Huntington Wine and Sprits, though, said it's time to stop blaming liquor stores for the fact that people are slobs. He said despite Chelsea's evidence, a ban in Boston could bankrupt small businesses, many of them owned by minorities and that the only real answer is "private/public partnerships" of the type that have, to date, not done anything to curb the problem. Massachusetts packies have their own campaigns to convince people to drop their empties in the trash - but where are government-funded campaigns?

Rubin testifies:

Steve Rubin

Rubin said he supports adding the small bottles to the state bottle bill - which he said would encourage people to earn some change by picking up the little bottles. And he said the state and cities should use money that is already not refunded for existing bottles to clean up parks.

He continued that banning the small bottles outright would only encourage people to buy the next size up - 200 ml - and that would just mean more litter and drunkenness.

Rubin acknowledged no Chelsea liquor stores shut down, but said they hemorrhaged business to neighboring cities - Everett, Revere and Boston, specifically East Boston. Mini-bottle consumers would do the same thing in Boston, he predicted - go to the next town over.

Newton City Councilor Emily Norton said there were no negative reactions when her city's licensing commission banned the bottles in 2021, in fact, one large liquor-store owner supported it as a way to curb litter in the Garden City. She said she originally proposed the measure as another step towards reducing the production and consumption of plastic - similar to Newton's and Boston's bans on thin plastic grocery bags.

She said the production of plastics in general, and the type used in the little bottles in particular, falls most heavily on Black and Brown communities across the country, since industrial concerns find it easier to set up shop near them than near affluent White communities.

She also urged Boston to ban the bottles, because she doubts state action to add them to the list of returnables will come anytime soon: "If we're going to wait for the state legislature, I would just say forget it."



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I don't know where we would be as a city if we didn't have places like Universal Hub watching and reporting on these hearings and other hyper local issues.

Thank you.

Voting closed 77

So the assumption seems to be that if this ban goes through the diehard alkies will go to Milton or Brookline for their quarter pints and nips and that that "If we're going to wait for the state legislature, I would just say forget it." as Newton City Councilor Emily Norton said? Definitely a strange way to do City business: Just pass it on to the next community.

I wonder how long it would take just to get a ban on quarter pints and nips just inside the Route 128 corridor, never mind the whole state doing it this way?

Voting closed 8

Ban the nips and them look for ways to provide actual help for those with a drinking problem. I'm saddened no one brought up the bigger issue of how many people in Boston could benefit from assistance with drinking issues. And how about adding more trash cans in areas where people are throwing trash?

And even better. How about having such a spirited debate about some of the recent violence in parts of the city, especially violence involving guns and kids. I'd much prefer our councilors talk about how to get rid of guns before they worry about nips !

Voting closed 26

And "nip bottle trash" is not exactly comparable to gun violence.

Just because there are huge, complex problems doesn't mean the city should ignore the small and easy ones.

Voting closed 58

I don't believe that they are. A search of the city council meeting minutes indicates it was discussed on 10/15/2006. A few councilors recently sent a letter to the mayor raising concerns.

Voting closed 12

Voting closed 7

I testified at a Boston City Council hearing on December 8, 2022. There have been other hearings. Whether they do anything is a whole different question but there are certainly gun violence hearings at least once a session.

Voting closed 5

How about the fact none of these billions of bottle are non-recyclable!?

Voting closed 10

Nips are definitionally about convenience. Going across town to a jurisdiction that sells them is not convenient. Bans anywhere generally result in a net reduction in sales.

Voting closed 22

Alcoholics with very little money also appreciate being able to save up enough for their next hit sooner.

...not that this is an argument in favor of nips, mind you. Just that convenience isn't the only or even the main attraction.

(Someone else did mention liking to cook with them, but that seems like a pretty niche use-case.)

Voting closed 9

Access to a nip can mean life or death for some of society’s least valued members.
Until we have an alternative safety mechanism, nips should not be banned.

Voting closed 9

“Women, in particular, would walk in with the tiny bottles on Friday and Saturday night, go into the ladies' room, down their bottles, toss them into the toilets, then exit completely "legless" even as they avoided paying for the bar's pricier drinks.“

I can’t tell what his problem is here. Women getting drunk or women not spending their money on fancy cocktails?

Voting closed 20

The guy spends his time trying to get people sober and thinks the nip ban is helpful in that regard.

And it will also reduce plumbing problems for his former employer too.

Voting closed 18

scratch tickets are trash too, make a deposit on them, no nips , no problem give me a half pint

Voting closed 15

Chelsea Guy here. Love me some Roy A (he was a great city councilor) but what he neglected to mention is that.. yeah nips are gone but now people have moved up pint bottles (which are only a dollar or two more). So now those are littered everywhere.

Also, I'd love to know which nip bottles are glass as all the nip related trash I've seen have been plastic. Most cheaper booze mfg's have moved to plastic (because its cheaper)

I'd more so like to see something done about beer bottles. I see more smashed beer bottles now on my street than anything. People drink and walk around with bottles, then set'em down and morons smash them.

And I second the scratch ticket thing. These things just fly around in the wind and blow everywhere. Then the rain comes and these things get stuck to everything. Once they are glued to the ground, they are pretty hard to get off things. (the paper they print these on is like toilet tissue.. ply's of paper)

Nip bottles I can pick up with my grippers. Scratch tickets, I have to bring out my hoe and scrap them off the sidwalk.

Voting closed 15

I started strongly disliking people who are in the business of peddling as much booze as possible after reading this eye opening article a while ago.

Selected quotes:

"The top 10 percent of American drinkers - 24 million adults over age 18 - consume, on average, 74 alcoholic drinks per week. That works out to a little more than four-and-a-half 750 ml bottles of Jack Daniels, 18 bottles of wine, or three 24-can cases of beer. In one week."

"One consequence is that the heaviest drinkers are of greatly disproportionate importance to the sales and profitability of the alcoholic-beverage industry. If the top decile somehow could be induced to curb their consumption level to that of the next lower group (the ninth decile), then total ethanol sales would fall by 60 percent."


Voting closed 28

That's an appalling statistic. It seems pretty clear that if "business" is allowed to wag the dog on this issue, nothing will ever get any better.

Voting closed 14

worked for a tech company that handled microtransactions. They observed the same pattern, that the same small percent of people (likely gambling or game addicts) accounted for the majority of in-app purchases.

They called them "whales" and the plan was to program nudges into the apps to entice them to spend even more money. It felt so icky.

Voting closed 15

in and around Pattens Cove seems to be pint bottles already. Last week there was even a smashed 1L Grey Goose bottle, I guess as a sign of the gentrifying times. It would be great if the litter solution were that simple, but I'm skeptical.

Voting closed 6

how can they ban the use of the name nip in the trade? what if stormy wants to market such a thing , using the family name daniels ? a nip of stormy woulld fetch a stiff price.

Voting closed 9

The emperor has no clothes and you can’t put lipstick on a pig. Michael Flaherty succeeded in showing just how insane the city policies are. Thank you Michael. Seriously people when are we going to WTFU

Voting closed 12

is someone representing the plastics lobby. No doubt they are bankrolling some of these local officials who are pro nip-bottles. The same plastic pellet is used to make 2L, 1L, and 20oz soda bottles. I assume the same is true of 50ml, 200ml, and half/pint sized bottles of liquor. So forcing stores to eliminate the smallest bottles will absolutely lower plastic consumption by weight.
There was a documentary on Concord MA trying to ban single use plastic bottles (which is what nips are) and the plastics industry absolutely crushed the issue multiple times.
Would be interesting to see if Dupont recently made a large contribution to Flaherty’s campaign fund. Comparing city/region wide litter issues, due to these bottles, to the hypodermic needle waste found mostly localized in a handful of areas (not saying they can’t be found anywhere) is disingenuous at the least.

Also the idea that banning them in Boston is going to lead to people getting on a broken train system to transfer to a bus etc to go to Quincy, Milton, or Revere to get a handful of cheap nips should have been laughed right out of the room.

Voting closed 9

The same plastic pellet is used to make 2L, 1L, and 20oz soda bottles.

That may be what your source said, but I will bet money that they meant the same pellets are used to make those bottles, not that one single pellet is used in each bottle. The pellets poured into the hoppers of molding machines are tiny; no way can a 2-liter bottle be made from one pellet.

You are probably correct that banning nips will reduce plastic waste, but not because they have the same amount of plastic in them as larger bottles.

Voting closed 7

  • Council invites guests from other cities, proceeds to have a weird argument about whether they should even discuss what the guests were brought here to talk about. Like when you're visiting a friend and their parents fight.
  • Flaherty being dramatic and off topic
  • Random women throwing nip bottles in the TOILETS instead of the trash cans?? Really?
    This is an ongoing major issue?
  • Newton obviously didn't have any problems with this compared to lost sales in Chelsea. Of course they didn't. Microcosm of the factors at work here
  • Banning nips is a social justice issue because plastic production in other states.
  • Everybody's bald-faced acknowledgement that state government is completely useless and municipalities are on their own to fix this

Love it. Great reporting, Adam.

Voting closed 12

It came up at a licensing-board hearing today. And a Johnnie's was involved even, although the Fenway one, not the West End one.

At issue was a woman who began feeling ill in the lady's room on Nov. 6, then collapsed on the dance floor, and by the time EMTs got there (they were delayed by a show getting out at the nearby MGM place), she was foaming at the mouth.

Roofied? Maybe, dunno. The bar wasn't cited for that or for having an overserved patron, because it turns out she was under 21 and so they were cited for having minors in possession of alcohol.

According to the bar, she tried getting into the place with "five or six" micro-bottles in her purse. The doorman, on searching her purse, found them and confiscated them, she returned to him later and, the manager said, tried to flirt with him to get the bottles back, but he was able to resist her charms and didn't give them to her.

Because she was only 20, so shouldn't have been let in to begin with, but she had a really good fake ID, which passed the scanner the bar uses, the bar manager says.

Voting closed 11

Oh I 100000% believe women are sneaking nips in their purses. It's the throwing it in the toilet that gets me. First off, nobody working the bar is watching the trash can to catch you for contraband. Secondly, womens' bathrooms usually have an extra super private little trash box in the stall itself. The option to throw it in the toilet when most women are taught fairly young NOT to throw "other things" down the toilet is just bizarre.

Seems like one of those things where the nip/sneaking is a widespread problem and there was one case involving plumbing and now the two details have been conflated.

Voting closed 7

She also urged Boston to ban the bottles, because she doubts state action to add them to the list of returnables will come anytime soon: "If we're going to wait for the state legislature, I would just say forget it."

So we shouldn't make it legal or illegal? Just let a few select people who were appointed (not elected) make a decision. Why not ban certain sizes of water bottles (they cause a lot of garbage)?

Short term thinking leads to long term problems. I feel badly for people who use it as a means to tempering how much alcohol they consume. Make the poorest people have to buy a larger size.

Maybe the reduction in public garbage receptacles has something to do with the amount of garbage on the ground?

Voting closed 7