The six-pack rings that hold together your beer cans might be the worst type of plastic to end up in oceans. Not only can they kill wildlife if they're eaten, but they can also trap and strangle animals. A new six-pack holder—made from wheat and barley instead of petroleum—solves the problem by being both edible and biodegradable.
Fish or other marine animals can safely nibble on the rings. And the plastic is designed to break down so quickly in ocean water that, according to the designers, the rings can't last long enough to trap a turtle or a bird.
"If our six pack ring ends up in the ocean in a matter of hours it starts breaking down, which also addresses the issue of animals getting stuck in them," says Gustavo Lauria, co-founder of We Believers, the creative agency that came up with the rings for Saltwater Brewery.
If the claims are correct, it will be a helpful advancement. Most "biodegradable" plastic fails to actually break down in the ocean. On the beach, the engineers say the material can break down in 60 to 90 days.
The brewery wanted to work on a project related to ocean conservation, and the agency was inspired by the fact that beer had a direct connection to the problem of ocean plastic through six-pack rings. "We realized it was a unique opportunity to go beyond any kind of advertising campaign and have a brand reflect its vision on the product itself," Lauria says.
They experimented with seaweed, their first choice for the new material, but seaweed became too rigid outside of water. Instead, they ended up working with byproducts of the brewing process—so the new rings also make use of waste, and have a minimal carbon footprint.
Now, the designers are hoping other breweries will follow, helping bring the cost of the new plastic down. Dozens of breweries have already reached out, and We Believers plans to begin a large manufacturing run this summer.