Environmental activists have long clamored for the piercing of six-pack plastic rings that hold cans together but also put wildlife around the world at risk. Recently, Saltwater Brewery of Florida announced that they are eliminating plastic rings entirely and replacing them with a much greener version built from beer by-products that are edible and 100 percent biodegradable. This will help in the effort to remove plastic waste from the oceans.
In a recent report published in the journal PNAS, researchers have found that 90 percent of seabirds have eaten plastic and are retaining some of it in their intestines. These same researchers are sure that by 2050, all dead seabirds will have plastic in their stomachs. Although not all of this plastic is the result of six-pack rings, it is a major contributor to the problem. The Ocean Conservancy’s 2015 Garbage Index cites plastic as the most common garbage item ingested by sea turtles in 2015. Volunteers collecting 16 million pounds of garbage each year found 57 marine mammals entangled in plastic. These kinds of facts make the concept of edible steps critical and a viable option.
The advertising agency We Believers developed this concept that involved an entire team of engineers to build the rings. Several months ago, We Believers reached out to Saltwater Brewery, a South Florida-based company, about a possible partnership. The Delray Beach-based eco-brewery works regularly with charities like the Coastal Conservation Association and the Surfrider Foundation to improve the marine environment. Once they met with the ad agency, Saltwater Brewery seized on the idea of combining their two main passions: beer and helping the environment. In a recent interview, President Chris Gove mentioned that the brewery believed in the idea so much because of a love for the ocean and the environment.
Simply constructed with a 3D printer, the rings are made from by-products of barley and wheat as a result of the brewing process. Plastic rings can get caught around the neck of marine life and suffocate them. However, these biodegradable rings will not harm animals, even when consumed, and will not harm the environment if they are not eaten. Gove likened the technology to having his son eat a Sour Patch Kid instead of a Lego.
When creating the product, the engineering team had to ensure that the rings could withstand the weight of beer cans and changing humidity, especially in South Florida. This was not an easy task since these two materials molded together had the potential to wrinkle under the 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 by-products. Surprisingly, different beers contain different by-products that can help strengthen and continue to improve the tensile strength of the rings. Saltwater Brewery and We Believers produced 500 units last month and announced that they plan to ship the biodegradable rings by late summer 2017 or fall 2017. The goal is to expand production to other craft breweries located in the United States.
Gove has received excellent feedback from the marine biology community. He notes that while beer by-products are not supposed to be part of the natural daily diet of marine life, they won’t harm them like plastic rings would.
This innovation will significantly change the environmental game because it is a zero waste, zero carbon footprint solution for the entire industry. At the moment, there are no real mass market solutions other than existing plastic rings. Therefore, the industry must rely on the consumer to cut the rings to make them less dangerous to sea creatures.
Edible rings are still patent pending and Saltwater Brewery hopes that the largest brewing companies will be able to advance and expand globally. Gove further points out that the way the United States is growing is because the smaller ones take the initiative and develop innovation, not because they regularly give the bigger ones the best product.
Of course, the adverse effects on …