What do you think of when you see a six-pack of beer or soda? Leaving apart the nutritional value (or lack thereof), the thoughts of summer long weekends, or the mouth watering anticipation of a carbonated beverage, what associations does the packaging bring up in your mind? If you’re anything like me, you think about sustainability. Seeing those plastic rings holding together a six-pack always conjures images of seabirds and turtles wearing the plastic packaging around their necks or flippers; dead fish strangled by them washed up on shore; or the stomach contents of larger oceanic creatures, where the rings remain completely intact and undigested.
Decades of environmentally-conscious films, news spots, printed ads, and television programs have permanently associated those seemingly benign little six-pack rings with the problems of human litter, and especially plastic pollution. I’ve always made sure to cut the rings up before disposing of them, just like I was taught, to prevent wild animals getting caught in them. Where possible, I avoid buying cans packaged with them at all — instead opting for larger boxes where all the packaging is recyclable, or simply buying loose cans for the occasional treat.
Now, however, plastic ring packaging may be a thing of the past. An ingenious brewery has come up with a much better solution to the problem of plastic pollution: by creating an edible, biodegradable six-pack ring. Saltwater Brewery has made the entire process of brewing beer more sustainable, using the discarded barley, wheat, and hops from the beer as the main component of the new rings. They’re strong enough to hold together the six-pack of full cans without risk of breaking, but they’re non-toxic, free of dyes, and 100% biodegradable. Animals can easily chew their way through these rings, and even humans can eat them without issue — though the flavor isn’t likely to be anything to write home about!
Like the edible utensils replacing plastic ones in India (created by a green startup called Bakeys) these biodegradable rings will help to reduce a massive amount of plastic waste. Americans drank 6.3 billion gallons of beer last year, and about half of that was from cans. Innovations like these edible six-pack rings are one great way to reduce the environmental impact of such consumption.
Of course, wider adoption of these kinds of green packaging initiatives is dependent on consumer demand and financial incentive. The biodegradable rings cost a bit more than the plastic ones to produce, so it would probably increase the cost of your six-pack by a small amount. If companies see that the general public is calling for the use of such technologies by all drink manufacturers — and putting their money where their mouths are by purchasing the new packaging — then they will begin to be produced en masse. Being produced in larger quantities brings the price down for everyone. And that is when environmental sustainability becomes not just a nice extra that thoughtful companies will work towards, but a real selling point.
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Jennie Lyon is a green lifestyle writer and the owner of Sweet Greens, the award-winning green lifestyle blog. She posts on simple, fun ways families can go green together – starting with her own. When she isn’t blogging, you will find her paddleboarding, sailing, beach-combing, camping, or spending time with her amazing husband and 14-year old son