One of the most jarring moments in the television series “Mad Men”—and there were more than a few jarring moments—came not during a high-stakes office showdown, or a steamy after-hours sexual encounter, but at the conclusion of a picnic at a park by lead characters Don and Sally Draper and their two young children.
Having finished their picnic, the Drapers pull up their blanket and walk away, leaving their empty cans and discarded wrappers scattered over the grass.
In doing so, the Drapers were engaging in fairly common behavior for the time in which the show is set, the 1960s.
The brief vignette, lasting just a few seconds, was a reminder that what once was viewed by many as acceptable has changed.
These days, few would condone another kind of behavior: buying miniature bottles of alcohol, commonly known as nips, to drink while driving, and then throwing the empty bottles out the window onto the roadside.
But it happens a lot, judging by the roadsides of Bourne and other Upper Cape towns.
Even if relatively few people are engaging in this behavior, they’re doing enough of it to routinely leave behind a critical mass of nips.
Now a Pocasset resident has come forward to ask the Bourne selectmen to confront the issue.
At the selectmen’s meeting last week, Jeremy Canfield said banning the sale of nip bottles would benefit the environment by eliminating roadside debris.
He added that banning nip bottles has been proven to curb traffic accidents in other Massachusetts towns. Banning nip bottles in Chelsea, he said, led to a 66 percent decrease in the number of ambulance calls to pick up intoxicated people or for drunk-driving accidents.
Mr. Canfield said the appeal of nip bottles is they are either easily concealed inside a vehicle, or disposed of on the roadside.
That is what makes them appealing to people who engage in drunk driving, he said. He suggested that people are less likely to get behind the wheel with a pint bottle on the seat next to them.
Mr. Canfield received a varied reaction from the selectmen.
Selectman Peter Meier agreed a ban would be good for the environment and cut down on drunk driving, though he wondered aloud whether a nip ban would encourage a move up to pint bottles.
Mr. Meier also warned of pushback from package store owners, who he said take in a substantial amount of revenue from the sale of nip bottles.
Selectman James L. Potter, who said he did not pretend to know the answer to the social dilemma of alcoholism, saw the littering of nip bottles as part of a larger piece of a puzzle to get people to participate in recycling efforts.
In fact, state Representative Randy Hunt of Sandwich has proposed legislation that would extend the 5-cent deposit on beer and soda cans and bottles to nip bottles as an incentive for recycling.
But Mr. Potter said the 5-cent deposit, which was instituted decades ago, no longer provides as much of an incentive to recycle those containers.
“There needs to be a much bigger discussion,” he said, “about how do you fix the whole system when it comes to these plastic bottles. Is it something you want on your roads and beaches, or do you want them recycled appropriately?”
Despite Mr. Potter’s reservations, the good news is that the Bourne selectmen, as indicated by the comments of the chairwoman, Judith Froman, are open to exploring a ban on nip bottles.
The Mashpee selectmen already are looking into using their licensing power over package stores to restrict the sale of nip bottles.
Whether a ban in Mashpee or Bourne would stick is an open question. Liquor store owners have appealed a move by Chelsea, which enacted a ban on 50-milliliter nip bottles, to extend that ban to 100-milliliter bottles.
The store owners filed their appeal with the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, which regulates alcohol sales in Massachusetts.
Chelsea has argued that the commission lacks jurisdiction on the city’s action. Even if that is the case, the city solicitor acknowledges that the restriction could then be challenged in court.
Maybe restrictions on the sale of nips by cities and towns will not stand a legal challenge. And perhaps Mr. Hunt’s legislation to require a deposit on the sale of nip bottles will not gain enough support to go into effect.
But at least the Bourne selectmen are open to addressing a problem that too long has lingered along the town’s roadsides. And with any luck, future generations will look back with surprise at a practice that, like the Drapers’ casual post-picnic littering, occurs routinely.