Lovers of beer and marine life rejoice. A Florida microbrewery, a New York–based advertising agency, and a Mexico-based biodegradables company have teamed up to make six-pack rings that don’t strangle and choke marine creatures.
Most of us are familiar with the horrifying photos of bird carcasses stuffed with the indigestible plastics they’ve eaten over a lifetime, or turtles squeezed into the tiny openings of six-pack rings. These aren’t just one-off cases: Scientists estimate that as much as 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste found its way into the ocean in 2010 alone, and that 90 percent of seabirds eat the stuff.
“The plastic problem is pervasive throughout our marine environment,” says Myra Finkelstein, a wildlife toxicologist at the University of California–Santa Cruz. “An alarming proportion of sea birds ingest plastic.”
But the folks at Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida, think they’ve found a way to reduce their plastic footprint. Three months ago, they were approached by the ad agency We Believers about developing biodegradable six-pack rings. They then connected with Mexico-based biodegradables manufacturer Entelequia Inc., and at first thought they’d try kelp. Eventually, though, they settled on something that breweries have an abundance of: spent grain.
Normally, says Chris Gove—a co-founder of Saltwater Brewery—brewers either give the leftover solid food waste to farmers, or they have to pay to dump it. But now, working with We Believers and Entelequia, they’ve developed a way to shape this food waste into six-pack rings, which they say biodegrade over two to three months. Of course, that doesn’t mean people should go lobbing these rings over the sides of their boats—biodegradable or not, “pack-in, pack-out” is still a good mantra to follow.
The team released a promotional video online in May and plans to ramp up manufacturing of the biodegradable rings in Florida, before eventually trying to roll out the technology in other breweries—first small, then large.
Will this one brewery make a noticeable difference in the multimillion metric tons of plastic floating into our oceans each year? Probably not.
“Ultimately it will take sort of a societal shift for our priorities,” Finkelstein says. “I think that we need to think harder and do more to prevent plastic from getting into the marine environment.”
The edible six-pack rings are a positive start.
“I think everything helps, and any type of change is a good thing,” she says. “And maybe it will save a couple of sea turtles, a couple of birds—and that’s always a good thing.”