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Ocean trash is a growing problem, but one company has an idea of how to help.
The Plate

Edible Six-Pack Rings Could Help Save Marine Life

Those plastic rings holding your beer cans together get stuck in turtles' throats and around their necks. But that may be about to change.

Every schoolkid knows that those tough plastic rings that hold six packs together can end up choking birds or sea turtles if they fall into the ocean, as so much of the world’s trash does. Now, one craft beer company has launched a new way to tackle this problem: fully edible, compostable six-pack rings.

Developed by the Delray Beach, Florida-based Saltwater Brewery and the ad agency Webelievers, the new rings are “made with byproducts of the beer making process, that instead of killing animals, feeds them,” the brewery writes on its website.

The rings are made of organic materials like spent barley and wheat, and are also biodegradable and compostable. The company says they are as tough as traditional plastic rings.

“It’s a great, innovative product that has drawn a new demographic of people to awareness about the problem of plastics in the ocean,” says Nick Mallos, the director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program.

Do turtles eat that stuff? “I can’t speak to the nutrition of barley to sea turtles, but it does seem a lot more benign if ingested than traditional six-pack plastics,” adds Mallos.

One possible downside of the product is that it costs a little more to make, especially since it is a new design. But the price premium is worth it, the company’s head of brands, Peter Agardy, says in a promotional video.

“It’s a big investment for a small brewery created by fisherman, surfers and people that love the sea,” said Agardy.

Saltwater Brewery was founded in 2013, based on a “lifestyle that revolves around the ocean,” the company writes. With the slogan “Explore the Depths of Beer,” the brewery says, “Our goal is to maintain the world’s greatest wonder by giving back to the ocean through Ocean Based Charities (CCA, Surfrider, Ocean Foundation, MOTE).”

Mallos says it’s been exciting to see how the six-pack design has spread around the Internet, raising awareness of ocean plastic. But it doesn’t mean the problem is solved or that people can start throwing their trash on the ground.

“There’s no silver bullet to plastic debris in the ocean,” says Mallos. “We need a holistic approach, which includes minimizing waste, better waste management, and mitigation through cleanups and other solutions.”

It’s also worth exploring whether the edible concept could be scaled up and extended to other types of packaging and products, Mallos notes. The world most needs solutions that work in the developing world, as well as the developed, since the former is now the biggest source of plastic in the seas, he says.

Brian Clark Howard is a senior writer for National Geographic, covering the environment, geology, technology and science. Follow him on Twitter.