Beer comes to the rescue for marine life




By Scott A. Rowan

Now you can have a beer and enjoy it guilt-free knowing that your selection will benefit the future of marine life thanks to an innovative brewery.

Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida, unveiled a biodegradable six-pack holder this month that is safe for aquatic animals to eat. The new beer rings are revolutionary in two ways: not only are they edible for animals, they are made from brewing byproducts, basically turning what is trash to humans into food for animals.

Composed of wheat ribbons and barley, the beer rings are as sturdy as traditional plastic without the environmental impact, according to the brewers.

“[These are] six-pack rings that feed animals instead of killing them,” Saltwater Brewery’s promotional video explained, touching on one of the key reasons for the invention.

Reducing the decades-long trend of increasing trash in the ocean is obviously one major positive result from biodegradable beer rings. But marine life will also benefit from the edible rings because the incalculable tonnage of plastic in the ocean has created a man-made threat to the future of every aquatic species.

A turtle's shell grows permanently and cannot be shed, so when animals get caught in six-pack rings or other constraints the result is deformation like seen here.
A turtle’s shell grows permanently and cannot be shed, so when animals get caught in six-pack rings or other constraints the result is deformation like seen here.

Turtles, seals, fish, and other animals get caught in beer rings, netting, and other plastic products. Ensnared in plastic, marine life often slowly drown to death. Unfortunately, animals that die may be more fortunate that the ones that live. Animals caught in plastic beer rings are doomed to deformation, reducing their lifespan, quality of life, and making them easier prey for predators.

Conservationists have campaigned for years to convince consumers to cut their beer rings to prevent animals from being caught in a plastic noose. However, even cutting the beer rings – and any plastic for that matter, especially plastic bags – may reduce the number of snarled animals, but it increases the chance of the smaller plastic pieces becoming mistaken for food and being eaten.

Ingestion of the plastic creates a damaging domino effect of problems for ocean life because the man-made polymers can kill the animals, but, even worse, once ingested the plastic becomes part of the food chain. Plastic particles get trapped in the digestive tract of small animals. When larger animals eat the smaller animals, the plastic inside the prey becomes part of the predator, too.

A 2014 study by United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) revealed that an estimated 280 tons of plastic is produced globally every year. Approximately 20 tons of that plastic ends up in the ocean, according to the study.

All of which makes Saltwater Brewery’s innovation even more impressive. There is one drawback, however: the innovation makes the brewer’s beer slightly more expensive than competitors using plastic rings. Any new invention costs more in its initial debut than in subsequent years, however, and the vanguard brewers are hopeful that they will not only be able to lower the cost eventually but that their rivals will mimic them, possibly creating new ways to reduce the cost of the biodegradable rings.

“We want to influence the big guys, and kind of inspire them to get on board,” said Chris Goves, Saltwater Brewery president.