AUGUSTA — Miniature liquor bottles would be subject to Maine’s 15-cent bottle deposit next year under a bill endorsed by a legislative committee on Monday.

Bill supporters said requiring retailers to collect a 15-cent deposit on the 50-milliliter liquor bottles known as “nips” would encourage recycling and, in the process, help address a growing litter problem. During a public hearing this month, several speakers said nips litter is a growing problem and displayed bags full of empty mini-bottles that they collected along roadsides, on people’s lawns or in the gutter.

In a 7-2 vote, members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee endorsed a bill that would apply the 15-cent liquor deposit on nips beginning Jan. 1, 2018. Consumers could then return empty bottles to redemption centers to receive the 15-cent deposit back, which supporters contend will discourage some buyers from littering and will encourage others to clean up roadsides.

Lawmakers decided to give the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations more time to work with the holder of the state’s liquor marketing and distribution contract, Pine State Trading Co., to work out the details of applying deposit stickers or labels to bottles.

Sales of the 50-milliliter bottles are soaring in Maine. In fiscal year 2016, the bureau sold an estimated 8.4 million nips bottles to agency liquor stores, and that figure is expected to surpass 12 million bottles this fiscal year. Just one brand of liquor, the cinnamon-flavored whiskey product called Fireball, accounted for 42 percent of nips sales in Maine last fiscal year, the bureau said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford, was pleased with the outcome.

“We heard from a lot of voices,” said Grohman, who was carrying a large plastic bag containing empty nips that he picked up as litter. “This is not a partisan issue, litter.”

The two committee members who voted against the bill said they would support increasing the fines on littering in Maine. Committee members who were absent on Monday have two days to cast votes.

The bill now goes to the House and Senate floor for consideration.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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