Bottle battle: Boston talks of banning tiny bottles of booze

Apr 6, 2023, 6:36 AM

BOSTON (AP) — The little bottles of booze at Huntington Wine and Liquor are displayed prominently at the front counter of the Boston store, some stacked neatly in display cases, others tossed haphazardly in trays.

Steven Rubin, whose family has owned the store since 1970, estimates that they account for up to 15% of his sales.

“They are a major part of our business, and have a high profit margin,” he said.

But he might be on the verge of losing those sales.

Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo has proposed banning city liquor stores from selling the bottles that hold from 50 to 100 milliliters (1.7 to 3.4 fluid ounces), which he says would address both alcohol abuse and excessive litter.

“The fact that this handled even one of these two issues would have been enough for me,” Arroyo said at city hall hearing on the issue on Monday. “The fact that it plays in both of these issues I think is an overwhelming reason to move forward with something like this.”

The little bottles are favored by people who want to drink in their vehicles because they are easy to hide from police and the empties can just be tossed out the window, Arroyo said.

Parents have told him that they are also preferred by underage drinkers because they’re easy to hide.

The ultimate decision on a ban on minis rests with the city’s Licensing Board, which regulates the city’s roughly 280 liquor stores. Board Chair Kathleen Joyce said Monday that applicants for new licenses or license transfers are already asked to voluntarily agree not to sell the little bottles.

Other Massachusetts communities that have banned the sale of the tiny bottles have seen benefits, Arroyo said.

Chelsea, the city just to the north of Boston in 2018 became the first municipality in the state to ban liquor stores from selling the bottles that cost as little as 99 cents.

The city’s ambulance service responded to 742 calls for alcohol-related issues in 2017 — and then 556 in 2018, when the ban was in place for about half the year, Arroyo said in his proposal.

The number of people taken into protective custody dropped by 20% the first two years of the ban and alcohol-related hospitalizations plummeted, Chelsea police Chief Keith Houghton said in a recent interview.

“It wasn’t just the aesthetic problems, with bottles everywhere, we were dealing with public intoxication, we were taking people into protective custody and transporting them to the hospital,” he said.

A ban would also benefit the environment, Arroyo said.

The discarded bottles, found clustered by the side of the road, in parks, and in waterways, are not biodegradable or recyclable. In the Hyde Park neighborhood that Arroyo represents, a community volunteer cleanup crew collected 10,000 of the bottles in two months, he said.

Banning the sale of miniature bottles had a measurable effect on reducing litter in Falmouth, Alan Robinson, chair of the Falmouth Solid Waste Advisory Committee, said in a recent telephone interview.

Before the Cape Cod community banned their sale in 2021, 32% of the items picked up during roadside community trash collections were the small bottles, he said. Since then, roughly 6% of the litter items are minis.

“It has made such a difference,” said Robinson, adding that “everyone he speaks with” reports fewer of these tiny bottles.

Liquor stores are pushing back.

When the bottles are banned, locally owned businesses suffer financially, and the underlying problems of litter and alcohol abuse aren’t adequately addressed, Robert Mellion, the executive director of the Massachusetts Package Store Association, said in a recent telephone interview.

When Chelsea banned the sale of the bottles, the local stores saw a collective $6 million loss in business in several months, while stores in neighboring communities like East Boston and Everett experienced higher sales.

“So people were still buying them, they just moved over the next community,” he said.

Or, Rubin said, they simply buy a larger bottle of alcohol.

“If you eliminate the 50 milliliter and 100 milliliter bottles, all you do is create a market for the larger bottles, and how does that address alcoholism?” he said. “People just buy the next size up and drink more.”

Rubin and Mellion acknowledge that the little bottles are a trash problem, but a sales ban is not the answer.

The 800-member Massachusetts Package Store Association supports an expanded bottle bill that would include a deposit on the miniature bottles, Mellion said.

“I think there we have a statewide solution to the trash problem,” he said

Jim Rossi, a Huntington Wine and Liquor customer who stopped in the store on a recent afternoon for some beer and tiny bottles of cinnamon whisky, agreed.

“If they’re worried about the litter, why don’t they put a deposit on them?” he said. “People would be snapping them up from the streets for the deposit just like they do with the discarded cans.”

United States News

Associated Press

Powerful storm in California and Nevada shuts interstate and dumps snow on mountains

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A powerful blizzard raged overnight into Saturday in the Sierra Nevada as the biggest storm of the season shut down a long stretch of Interstate-80 in California and gusty winds and heavy rain hit lower elevations, leaving tens of thousands of customers without power. Up to 10 feet (3 meters) of […]

1 hour ago

Musher Dutch Johnson, a kennel manager at The August Foundation for Alaska Racing Dogs, runs a dog ...

Associated Press

Alaska’s Iditarod dogs get neon visibility harnesses after 5 were fatally hit while training

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Iditarod, the annual sled dog race celebrating Alaska’s official state sport, is set to get underway Saturday with a new focus on safety after five dogs died and eight were injured in collisions with snowmobiles while training on shared, multi-use trails. For the first time, mushers who line up for […]

4 hours ago

FILE - Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference...

Associated Press

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton beat impeachment. Now he wants Super Tuesday revenge on his foes

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton beat impeachment. On Super Tuesday, he wants political revenge. The Republican, who just six months ago was on the brink of removal from office, is charging into Texas’ primaries on a dramatic campaign to oust dozens in his own party. They include rank-and-file legislators, state judges […]

4 hours ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 29, 2024. Short...

Associated Press

Ukrainian troops are rationing ammo. But House Republicans plan to take weeks to consider aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukrainian drones fly without ammunition. Russian artillery unleash deadly volleys from safe positions beyond the range of Kyiv’s troops. Shortages of ammo and supplies are resulting in lost ground to Moscow, U.S. congressional leaders warn, yet the Republican-controlled House has shown little hurry to resupply Ukraine with military aid. Across Washington, officials […]

4 hours ago

FILE - Registered Republican voters stand in line March 6, 2012, for the caucus event in Rathdrum, ...

Associated Press

Republicans in Idaho, Missouri and Michigan will meet to weigh in on the presidential race

More delegates are up for grabs Saturday as former President Donald Trump looks to get closer to clinching the Republican nomination and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley seeks her first win. Trump, who is especially strong in caucuses, is expected to add to his delegate lead in Republican caucuses in Idaho and Missouri, as well […]

4 hours ago

FILE - Music fans relax during a break in the entertainment at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, A...

Associated Press

Peace, music and memories: As the 1960s fade, historians scramble to capture Woodstock’s voices

BETHEL, N.Y. (AP) — Woodstock didn’t even happen in Woodstock. The fabled music festival, seen as one of the seminal cultural events of the 1960s, took place 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) away in Bethel, New York, an even smaller village than Woodstock. It’s a fitting misnomer for an event that has become as much legend […]

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 


Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.


Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Bottle battle: Boston talks of banning tiny bottles of booze