Environmental activists have long clamored for the perforating of plastic six-pack rings that keep cans together but also put wildlife around the world at risk. Recently, Florida’s Saltwater Brewery announced that they are eliminating plastic rings entirely and replacing them with a much more environmentally-friendly version constructed from brewing byproducts that are edible and 100-percent biodegradable. This will help in the effort to eliminate plastic waste products from oceans.
In a recent report published in the journal PNAS, researchers have discovered that 90-percent of seabirds have eaten plastic and retain some of it in their gut. These same researchers are certain that by the year 2050, all dead seabirds will have plastic in their stomach. Although not all of this plastic is the result of the six-pack rings, it is a major contributor to the problem. The Ocean Conservancy’s 2015 Trash Index cites plastic as being the most common trash item ingested by sea turtles in 2015. Volunteers that pick up the 16-million pounds of garbage each year found 57 marine mammals entangled in plastic. These types of facts make the concept of edible rungs critical and a feasible option.
The advertising agency, We Believers, developed this concept which involved an entire team of engineers to construct the rings. Several months ago, We Believers approached Saltwater Brewery, a South Florida-based company, about a potential partnership. The Delray Beach-based, environmentally-friendly brewery regularly works with charity organizations such as the Coastal Conservation Association and Surfrider Foundation to improve the marine environment. Once they met with the advertising agency, Saltwater Brewery jumped at the idea to combine its two primary passions: beer and helping the environment. In a recent interview, President Chris Gove mentioned that the brewery believed in the idea so much due to the love for the ocean and environment.
Simply constructed using a 3D printer, the rings are made from barley and wheat byproducts as a result of the brewing process. Plastic rings can get caught around the neck of sea life and suffocate them. However, these biodegradable rings will not harm the animals, even when consumed and will not harm the environment if they are not eaten. Gove compared the technology to having your child eat a Sour Patch Kid rather than a Lego.
When creating the product, the engineering team had to guarantee that the rings would be able to withstand the weight of the beer cans as well as the changing humidity, especially in South Florida. This was not an easy task given that these two material molded together had the potentially to crumple under humidity or the collective weight of the cans.
Eventually, the brewery will replace the plastic molds used for the rings with steel or aluminum to mass produce this product and even experiment with other natural fibers or byproducts. Surprisingly, different beers contain different byproducts which can help strengthen and continue to improve upon the rings tensile strength. Saltwater Brewery and We Believers produced 500 units last month and announced that they are planning to commercialize the biodegradable rings by the end of summer 2017 or into the fall of 2017. The goal is to expand production into other crafter breweries located in the United States.
Gove has received excellent feedback from the marine biology community. He points out that while beer byproducts are no supposed to be part of the sea life’s natural daily diet, it will not harm them like plastic rings would.
This innovation will significantly change the environmental game because this a zero waste, zero carbon footprint solution for the entire industry. At the moment, there are no real mass market solutions other than the existing plastic rings. Therefore, the industry must rely on the consumer to snip the rings in order to make them less hazardous to sea creatures.
The edible rings are still patent pending and the Saltwater Brewery is hoping that larger beer companies can take their progress and expand globally. Gove further notes that the way in which America is growing is due to the small guy taking the lead and developing innovation, not by regularly giving the largest guys the best product.
Of course any adverse effects on the environment will not be evident until the product becomes more mainstream. With any new environmental innovation, there is always a concern with the long term effects. Saltwater Brewery and We Believers have considering the effects regarding digestion of the byproduct and whether it would affect the bacteria levels in the water. This could not be proven until studies are conducted by Save Our Shores, an organization that has found that plastic rings prevent four primary problems to the ocean life:
- 1. Entanglement
- 2. Ingestion
- 3. Suffocation
- 4. Toxin Exposure
Representatives from Save Our Shores note that this is a smart solution to a behavior problem and that any product aiming to eliminate the aforementioned dangers to the sea animals is a major step in the right direction. Instead of changing the environmental behaviors of the large breweries through education, it can be changed by the way in which products and materials are designed and used. The edible rings will not completely eliminate the problem of plastic in the environment but it is a good start and will have some type of immediate and long-term impact.
If the country recycled 100-percent of the plastic that is used in the marketplace, there would not be a need for edible rings. Unfortunately, the United States and all other countries around the world are far away from achieving that goal in the near future. Luckily, products like the edible ring help to improve upon the environmental situation that is currently facing Earth.
All experts agree that the edible ring is an amazing innovation that could immediately save the lives of thousands of animals and millions over the long-term. Although having other smaller breweries adopt this idea is an excellent start to only using biodegradable rings in packaging, they really need to catch the eye of the big breweries. Once one large brewery picks up the idea, all of the other major players will adopt it and make the idea their own. This is how to spark a new movement with regards to environmental awareness within corporations and consumers.