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You know that plastic six-pack rings are bad. Somehow, everybody knows that. Of all the plastic safety tips that could have tickled into our collective consciousness, this one seems to have stuck. If you care, you cut the rings before you toss them in the trash; if you really care, you try to avoid plastic packaging altogether.

Because what happens when the rings (inevitably) end up in the ocean? As Louis C.K says, “Some dolphin wears it as a hat on its face for ten years.” And that’s the best case scenario.

Worst case scenario, an animal eats it and chokes to death. Most gruesome case scenario, it gets stuck around a turtle and its body and internal organs are permanently deformed as they grow around it.

Mae West when she was first found, trapped in a plastic milk jug ring. Not a six-pack ring, but feel free to split all the hairs you want. (Photo via 5 Gyres Institute)

Mae West when she was first found, trapped in a plastic milk jug ring. Not a six-pack ring, but feel free to split all the hairs you want. (Photo via 5 Gyres Institute)

It’s a shitty situation.

This happens because plastic does not biodegrade. Organic matter will eventually break down and decompose and rejoin the environment. Plastic, on the other hand, simply breaks up into smaller and smaller particles that never go away. The surface layer of our ocean is brimming with plastic particles that are often mistaken for plankton by the fish we in turn will eat in our fish filets.

That’s right. Your ocean meat sandwich may have starved to death on a belly full of non-nutritious plastic debris. It happens to albatross, and camels, all the time.

Plastic garbage from the stomach of a camel. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Plastic garbage from the stomach of a camel. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

One craft beer company in Delray Beach, Florida, decided that was a bummer they’d rather not have on their conscience.

Saltwater’s Edible Six-Pack Rings

In partnership with WeBelievers, Saltwater Brewery has developed the first-ever Edible Six Pack Rings. The packaging is made from byproducts in the beer-making process, like barley and wheat, and is safe to eat for both animals and humans (which is a great bonus for certain journalists that need something to munch on after they kill a whole six-pack by their lonesome). The edible rings are also 100 percent biodegradable and compostable, and the company claims they’re just as durable as their plastic counterparts.

Unfortunately, the rings do cost more than traditional plastic rings, but Saltwater sees that cost diminishing if larger companies get on board. “We hope to influence the big guys,” said Chris Goves, President of Saltwater Brewery. “And hopefully inspire them to get on board.”

This is not the first sustainable initiative undertaken by the little brewery. Comprised of proud beach-loving Floridians, Saltwater donates to several ocean-based charities, including the Coastal Conservation Association, Ocean Foundation and Surfrider. The brewery also applies sustainable practices to the production of its beer, collecting its spent grain to feed local, free-range cattle. And as the company states, “By local, we mean local.” The cows fed are located only 30 miles from the brewery.

Saltwater Brewery's edible six-pack rings. (Photo courtesy of WeBelievers)

Saltwater Brewery’s edible six-pack rings. (Photo courtesy of WeBelievers)

“It’s a big investment for a small brewery created by fisherman, surfers and people that love the sea,” says Peter Agardy, head of brand at Saltwater Brewery. But they believe it’s worth it in the long run.

What Is the Long Run?

In December 2014, the 5 Gyres Institute published the first official estimate of global ocean plastic pollution. After six years, 24 expeditions and over 50,000 nautical miles, researchers reported that there are some 5.25 trillion plastic particles floating in the ocean, with a collective weight of about 269,000 tons.

In January, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and World Economic Forum calculated that eight million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean every year, the “equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute.” By 2050, this accelerating rate of dumpage, combined with marine attrition due to overfishing, is projected to leave the ocean filled with more plastic than fish, by weight.

So yeah, biodegradable rings is a sweet idea. I’m sure 2050’s few surviving fish will appreciate us breaking up the monotony of their all-plastic diets with a little fiber now and then.

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