Earlier this week, local Joplin businessman Jon Thomas Buck proposed that the Joplin City Council ban the sale and distribution of mini bottles of liquor.
Buck wants Joplin to follow the “nip ban” as adopted in the Boston area.
When asked about the proposal, Buck said, “We all know Joplin has struggled with issues related to litter and cleanliness in recent years. … One of the biggest culprits is the abundance of these small, single-serving bottles of alcohol. They are often consumed on the go and then discarded without a second thought, contributing to unsightly and unhealthy conditions in our city.”
But Joplin residents must ask themselves: Is this a good justification for banning what is essentially a small version of an otherwise legal product? The answer is no.
A mini-bottle ban is just another encroachment from the nanny state, this time aimed at adult consumers who prefer smaller bottles because they are convenient, ultimately punishing drinkers who want small serving sizes.
For public health, there is little evidence to suggest that prohibition of smaller-sized products works, certainly not from a harm reduction angle. If Joplin does go down the road of banning mini bottles, consumers will ultimately make one of two choices in response. The first is that they will buy these convenient bottles beyond Joplin’s city limits. This is obviously irritating for consumers and problematic for Joplin retailers as this motion tilts the scales against them.
The alternative to buying mini bottles elsewhere is, ironically, buying larger bottles of alcohol. It is hard to see how fewer alcohol-related incidents will arise from a policy that mandates consumers buy bottles of liquor 3 ounces or larger. Imagine trying to curb obesity by mandating that no meal can be fewer than 800 calories?
By stomping on convenience for consumers, Buck’s motion will actually end up nudging drinkers to larger bottles, and the possibility of more consumption and more alcohol-related incidents. This is a lose-lose scenario.
The second major critique of mini bottles is disposal. Because they are small, too many drinkers dispose of them by simply throwing them out on the street. Of course, this is unacceptable. There are laws against littering, and they need to be enforced. But surely the City Council can identify a problem that needs to be solved without deferring to prohibitionist policies? Other options, such as the expansion of trash bins on city streets or more by-law litter enforcement, should be exhausted before going down the route of a complete ban of a product consumers clearly love.
Those who support the ban highlight that because these bottles are small, they are virtually impossible to recycle. Some municipal websites across the United States explain that they often fall through the cracks of the sorting machines, and thus should be put in your trash bag as opposed to being recycled.
This is only true using dated machinery and recycling technology. Through chemical depolymerization, the repurposing of the bonds in plastics, virtually all plastic can be recycled. Take for example Alterra Energy in Ohio. Their advanced recycling plant takes in 40-50 tons of hard to recycle plastics (like mini bottles) and transforms them back into the building blocks for new plastic production, extending the life cycle of these hard to recycle plastics indefinitely.
Is Buck trying to reinvent the wheel of prohibition?
The prohibition of alcohol 100 years ago failed. The mindset of banning products that were deemed a nuisance caused more harm than good, which is why alcohol was then legalized.
Prohibition always promises results, but ends up creating a long list of negative second-order effects, many of which are worse than the initial issue of substance use.
Buck’s campaign to treat us all like children when it comes to the purchase of nips is going to have all the glory, majesty and success of previous prohibitions. The nip ban motion should be thrown in the trash can, along with your empty nips.
Originally published here