Nip Bottle Cranberry Bog

A nip bottle floats in a small pond near a cranberry bog on Spring Hill Road in East Sandwich.

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 Mashpee 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.

Selectman John J. Cotton, who has served as a Scoutmaster for a Mashpee Boy Scout troop, spoke at a recent selectmen’s meeting about what his Scouts find when they pick up litter along the town’s roads.

“Half of our trash bags are filled up with nips,” Mr. Cotton said.

The perpetrators are breaking the law twice: once by drinking while driving, and then by littering.

Nips, however, make it all easy. They are easy to conceal—far more so than a can of beer or a pint of liquor—easy to down quickly, and easy to get rid of in a flash.

Unless the driver downs so many nips that he is all over the road, or makes the mistake of tossing out an empty nip while a police officer is watching, his chances of getting caught are close to nil.

Now the Mashpee selectmen are exploring a tactic pioneered by the City of Chelsea: prohibiting the sale of nips.

Chelsea police found that many nips were downed in the vicinity of, if not right outside, the package stores where they were purchased.

By restricting the sale of nips in the town, Mashpee stands a good chance of seriously reducing the prevalence of empty miniature bottles discarded along the town’s roads.

The beauty of what the selectmen are considering is that the restriction can be included as a requirement for the annual renewal of a package store’s liquor license. As the local licensing authority, the selectmen could enact the change on their own, without bringing it to Town Meeting.

Other proposals have been put forward to attack nip littering. State Representative Randy Hunt of Sandwich has proposed legislation that would require a 5-cent deposit on nips.

Rep. Hunt said that while his bill is not going to prevent someone from slinging an empty nip bottle out the window, the 5-cent deposit could come as an incentive for someone to come along later and pick it up.

That’s exactly the effect that the 5-cent deposit on cans and bottles that once contained beer, soda or water has had in Massachusetts.

Cans and bottles once routinely could be found along roads in Massachusetts. Now, after enactment of the required 5-cent deposit, far fewer are tossed aside as litter—and those that are do not linger there nearly as long.

Putting a nip restriction into effect in Mashpee package stores may well prove a battle.

Selectman Andrew R. Gottlieb warned of potential pushback on the proposal. “You know that people who sell them are going to come out in force,” Mr. Gottlieb said.

The restriction also may run into legal resistance. Chelsea enacted its restriction on 50-milliliter alcohol bottles without challenge, but a subsequent move by the city to ban 100-milliliter alcohol bottles spurred an appeal by liquor stores to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, which regulates alcohol sales in the state.

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 Mashpee officials are trying to address 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.

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