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Edible 6-pack rings will help, rather than harm, wildlife

Courtesy: Saltwater Brewery

Courtesy: Saltwater Brewery

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, May 19, 2016, 4:30 PM - A 2014 study in the journal PLOS One suggests there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes swirling in the world's oceans. The six-pack rings used to transport beverages are a particular hazard, because fish and animals can get caught in them.

Now, Saltwater Brewery has come up with an environmental solution that stands to help, and not hurt, wildlife, while eliminating at least some of the plastic that ends up in the world's waterways.

The company has partnered with ad agency We Believers to create what they're calling the first fully edible packaging for beer cans.

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Created using wheat and barley byproducts, the holders are 100% biodegradable and edible. According to the company, they're are just as strong as their plastic counterparts.

The company tested a batch of 500 holders in April and has plans to scale up production so the packaging can be used on the brewery's current output of 400,000 beer cans per month.

The holders are more expensive to make than the plastic version, but the company hopes they will encourage other beverage makers to test the idea.


Plastic an environmental concern

While plastic is an integral part of modern society, this "miracle material" has a downside. It's estimated that 1 billion tonnes of plastic have been discarded since the 1950s and research suggests it will take up to 500 years for some forms to biodegrade.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only 8% of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 in the U.S. actually made it to recycling plants.

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The other 92% was shuffled off to landfills or found its way into the water.

According to the report by the MacArthur Foundation published earlier this year, at least 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean every minute, a number that's expected to double by 2050 if no action is taken.

Plastic in the ice

Plastic isn't just swirling in the water: A study published in May 2014 a team of researchers discovered there could be trillions of pieces of microplastics lurking in Arctic ice.

As the ice it melts due to rising global temperatures, it could flood the ecosystem with an unprecedented amount debris.

"Arctic sea ice from remote locations contains concentrations of microplastics at least two orders of magnitude greater than those that have been previously reported in highly contaminated surface waters," the study's author's write.

"Our findings indicate that  microplastics have accumulated far from population centers and that polar sea ice represents a major historic global sink of man-made particulates."

The research team believes that Arctic ice is trapping floating microplastics as it freezes. By citing current melting trends, the team estimates that 1 trillion pieces of plastic could be released in the next ten years.


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