Connecticut Beverage Mart (CTNewsJunkie / file photo)

More than $6.6 million in “nip” surcharges have been distributed to Connecticut towns by state liquor sellers since 2021 under a program used to fund environmental projects through a 5-cent surcharge on small 50mL liquor bottles.

The number was released last week by Three Tiers for Connecticut, a nonprofit representing wine and liquor sellers and suppliers. 

The industry administers the surcharge program, which was passed in an update of the state bottle bill and represented a compromise with environmental advocates who sought to require a deposit charge on the tiny plastic bottles, which often litter the state’s roads and parks.

In a press release, Lawrence Cafero, president of the nonprofit and executive director of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Connecticut, said the program was performing beyond expectations.

“This is our strongest six-month period yet, and we just delivered $2.4 million in eco fees into the hands of our cities and towns, many of which are using those dollars to keep their roadsides, waterways, and public spaces litter-free,” Cafero said.

The proceeds of the surcharge are collected by sellers, who send them to the towns where the alcohol was sold. Customers are not required to return nips to package stores in order for a municipality to receive money under the program. 

Over the last six months, the highest payments to large cities. For instance, New Haven, where 2.3 million nips were sold, received $115,073. Bridgeport sold 1.6 million nips and received $80,392 over the same period. 

On the other end of the spectrum, no nips were sold in seven towns, Bridgewater, Colebrook, Eastford, Easton, Hartland, Lyme, and Union. Those towns received no funding under the program. 

In the press release, Cafero said most litter occurs close to where containers are purchased. 

“This is why when legislators came to us looking for a solution, we built an eco-fee program to keep it local — because we make sure that the fees collected in each town stay in that town, with no hidden handling charges or ‘sweeps’ of money into the general fund like other programs,” Cafero said. “In just 18 months, this local solution has become a national model.”

Connecticut lawmakers may look to revisit the issue in the coming years. In an interview Monday, Rep. Joe Gresko, a Stratford Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Environment Committee, praised alcohol sellers for administering the program, which he said helped towns through a consistent influx of money dedicated to environmental projects and programs. 

However, Gresko said programs to clean up litter were “treating the symptom and not necessarily treating the problem.” 

“Based on the number of nips that Larry [Cafero] is saying were sold, it’s really not dealing with the litter and the rampant use of one-time plastic,” he said. “Double-edged sword.”

Gresko said he would be willing to revisit a bottle deposit charge if machines capable of handling the small bottles become available. The legislature could also consider giving towns the ability to ban the sale of nips within their borders, an idea he expected to be unpopular with Connecticut’s liquor sellers. 

“The governing body of a municipality could decide whether or not the money they’re getting from the sale of nips is worth the litter that happens,” Gresko said. “I wouldn’t mandate that on a state level but if certain municipalities wanted to explore that, we would give them the option.”