We've all seen it - the terrible images of birds, turtles and other wildlife strangled by six-pack rings from beer cans floating in the ocean. As a result, kids across America are taught to cut six-pack rings as part of their recycling education. While those efforts have helped, with more than 3 billion gallons of beer sold in six-packs in the US each year, a better solution is crucial.
One option is moving to bottles, but cans help beer maintain its quality by keeping out light and providing an airtight, oxygen-free environment. Six-packs are also relatively light, and the metal is easy to recycle, making them more environmentally friendly except for those pesky plastic six-pack rings. In addition to strangling animals, plastic that finds its way into rivers, streams and oceans is often ingested by wildlife. According to Greenpeace, 80% of sea turtles and 70% of seabirds are ingesting plastic garbage. About 1,000,000 birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year because of plastic-related incidents.
Saltwater Brewery, a craft beer brand based in Florida, markets their beer to surfers, fishermen and other sea-lovers. They worked with We Believers, an ad company based in NY, to tackle the issue of six-pack rings head on by creating a better solution. They created a process to produce edible six-pack rings from the byproducts of the beer brewing process, such as barley and wheat. Unlike plastic, which is made from petrochemicals, these rings are natural, biodegradable and even edible -- providing additional nutrients to marine mammals and birds that ingest them.
After months of design rounds, variations in raw material mix and stress tests, the company has made their first batch. The material they are in the process of patenting together with a small startup of young engineers in Mexico has the potential to impact the CPG and Food and Beverage Industries. While still more expensive than the mass-market alternative, they hope that the whole beer industry will shortly follow Saltwater Brewery's example, driving demand and bringing down the price of humane six-pack rings. "If most craft brewers and big beer companies implement this technology, the manufacturing cost will drop and become very competitive compared with the current toxic plastic solution," a company spokesperson noted.
While this technology is still in its nascent stage, adopting animal-friendly six-pack rings could save hundreds of thousands of marine animals from pain, disfigurement or death. We can all drink to that!