EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Litter seems to be a problem everywhere and local environmentalists are making a push to get Rhode Island cleaned up.
“I’m surrounded by a problem,” Bill McCusker said while standing in front of a dozen large recycling bins filled with miniature alcohol bottles.
McCusker is president of the Friends of the Saugatucket, a watershed protection group based in South Kingstown.
His group and others have collected thousands of bottles, also called “nips,” from around the state.
“Mainly because we want this to be an example for the General Assembly to see of the problem,” McCusker explained.
In a letter sent to McKee earlier this month, nine environmental groups urged the governor to support a so-called “bottle bill” aimed at reducing litter statewide.
“Public education and volunteer cleanups are not enough to adequately address the problem,” the letter reads. “We need to adopt laws and regulations that have been proven to be effective in reducing litter and improving recycling.”
The letter describes the bottle bill as “the single most impactful policy we can adopt to reduce litter in the state.”
The legislation would require shoppers to pay a deposit for recyclable bottles and nips upfront, which would then be returned when the empties are brought to a recycling center.
In a statement to 12 News, a spokesperson for McKee said he is “reviewing the legislation and will continue to monitor it as it makes its way through the legislative process.”
“I’m applauding [McKee] for caring about the issue, but urging more decisive action to get at the root of the problem,” Save The Bay’s Topher Hamblett said.
Hamblett said Rhode Island’s litter problem seems to be getting worse.
“Last year in 2022, during the International Coastal Cleanup, over 33,000 items were picked up that were either beverages, caps or things related to bottles,” Hamblett said.
Bottle bills have been introduced in the past in Rhode Island, but never received much traction.
Massachusetts and Connecticut have had a 5 cent bottle deposit on certain bottles since the 80s. Maine also includes a deposit on nips.
The purpose is to limit litter.
“One way to do that is to put a value on them,” Hamblett said. “Someone is less likely to throw away a bottle that’s worth 10 cents.”
“When we do our cleanups, the single most abundant items we’re finding in the river are these alcoholic nips,” McCusker added.
Friends of the Saugatucket found 21,000 nip bottles from late December 2021 into March of 2022, according to McCusker. Since late December of 2022 to date, he said they’ve collected 8,100 nip bottles.
Many of the nips were found on the sides of the roads. If not picked up, McCusker said the bottles will find their way into storm drains, rivers and into the ocean.
“It’s unnecessary,” McCusker said. “There’s a social component to it that there’s people drinking and driving. There’s an environmental impact. It’s going to be there forever.”
“It is a problem that is growing and needs a real policy fix by the General Assembly,” Hamblett added.
Most nip bottles are not recyclable at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) in Johnston.
RIRRC’s list of A to Z items states that, “it is best to place containers that are less than 2″ diameter and 2″ tall in the trash.”
McCusker said because he has sorted through his vast collection of nip bottles, RIRRC told him he can bring the bottles to their facility to be recycled.
The latest version of the bottle bill is expected to be introduced to the Rhode Island General Assembly in the next few weeks.
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