Brewing Up a Six-Pack Ring That Won’t Kill Turtles
Given the amount of plastic floating in the world’s waterways, it’s not unusual for marine life to accidentally ingest bits of refuse—and get sick or die as a result. Then there’s the horrible fate of the creatures that get plastic six-pack rings stuck around their necks or bodies. Some, like the famous hourglass-shaped turtle Peanut, end up with deformed bodies and underdeveloped organs—if they’re not strangled first—all because they swam into a six-pack ring as a baby.
But the days of a six-pack of beer polluting the planet and harming animals could be numbered, thanks to a joint effort by Florida-based SaltWater Brewery and New York City–based creative agency We Believers. Together they’ve disrupted the plastic six-pack-ring status quo by creating Edible Six-Pack Rings, a 100 percent biodegradable and compostable holder for the brewery’s beer.
The result is a six-pack ring that resembles the recyclable pulp-fiber drink carriers handed out at coffee shops—except these 3-D-printed rings are manufactured from leftover wheat and barley used during the beer-making process. Although they’re fully edible—including by marine life—they’re also strong enough to tote a six-pack of beer or soda.
The response from the public since SaltWater Brewery revealed the rings in a YouTube video announcement posted to its Facebook page in mid-May has been resounding. The post has been liked and shared nearly 2,000 times, with numerous people thanking the company for attempting to solve the plastic pollution problem.
“Thousands of people have said, ‘Why did it take so long?’ We would like to have an answer to that too,” wrote We Believers cofounder Marco Vega in an email to TakePart.
SaltWater Brewery and We Believers knew they were onto something, but they weren’t fully prepared for how passionate the public would be about the rings. “The absolute support from ocean conservancy groups, craft breweries, and thousands and thousands of people reaching out to help, support and spread the story” has been surprising, We Believers cofounder Gus Lauria wrote to TakePart.
Vega and Lauria began thinking about making eco-friendly beer packaging after observing how much plastic trash they generated during a single lunch together last year. They contacted Chris Gove, the cofounder of SaltWater Brewery, because they knew the organic craft beer maker had been wanting to tackle the issue of plastic pollution too.
Although cutting up a plastic six-pack ring will keep it from being caught around a turtle’s neck, that’s not a real solution because creatures can still eat the chopped-up particles. We Believers and SaltWater Brewery realized they had to tackle the problem at its root by changing what six-pack rings are made of.
They tested approximately 500 versions of the rings, settling on the wheat-and-barley-based model. Some critics on social media have written that fish and turtles aren’t supposed to be eating barley or wheat either—that large amounts of gluten floating in the ocean might not be healthy.
“We have spoken with a good number of marine biologists. There is no conclusive evidence that fish or marine wildlife are gluten intolerant,” wrote Vega. “What is a fact is they are plastic intolerant, they can’t digest the plastic and as it accumulates they are incapable to digest [actual] food” and starve as a result.
Given the potential for these six-pack rings to reduce plastic pollution and save marine life, it seems like a no-brainer that other major beer producers would reach out to see if they can adopt them. “We can’t disclose names, but we have been contacted indeed by major beer manufacturers or their representatives,” Lauria wrote.
Vega wrote that it’s only “a matter of will” to get every beer company to adopt the rings within the next couple of years. He believes continued pressure from the public—and from craft breweries that quickly adopt the innovation—will force major breweries “to provide a 100 percent biodegradable, compostable, and edible six pack.” About 300 craft breweries around the world have gotten in touch to find out about adopting the Edible Six-Pack Rings.
Lauria is optimistic about the possibilities. “If you believe in something strong enough and deep enough, good people follow and help you make it happen. This is just the beginning,” he wrote.