Those plastic rings used to connect drink cans together have been around since the 1970s - and it has long been known how lethal they can be for wildlife. Thousands of marine animals and birds are thought to die or become maimed by getting trapped in discarded six-pack plastic hoops each and every year.
But why has it taken so long for something to be done about it?
Much like the plastic straws, six-pack rings are often seen as enemies of the ocean. Though straws and six-pack rings account for only a tiny fraction of all the plastic trash in the ocean, we have all seen those distressing images of sea turtles with plastic straws jammed into their noses or plastic six-pack rings encircling their bodies. Of course they can be recycled
and many of them are but why are they being made with plastic in the first place? There has been a big campaign to change from plastic straws to paper ones - and with considerable success.
More success on the horizon
Now, there is good news with some beer companies trying to create new and innovative ways to hold their cans together - without trapping marine animals in any resulting refuse.
- Since 1994, all ring carriers sold in the U.S. must be degradable. Many manufacturers meet this standard by making their rings photodegradable, which means they break down in light. However, it takes three to four months for the rings to break down in cloudy, winter-like conditions, still leaving the possibility that wildlife might well consume the smaller byproducts formed as the plastic breaks down. At the very least, consumers should cut those rings first before disposing or recycling them.
- A Danish beer company Carlsberg announced they would be using a newly engineered type of glue to hold their six packs together with tests showing that there was no impact on whether the cans can still be recycled. However, there was a downside as each 6-pack would still contain a “handle” made of a thin strip of plastic affixed to the two middle beer cans.
With the above developments having taken place, there is no longer any excuse for manufacturers to still be using those 6-pack plastic rings.
- Possibly the best concept yet was the Eco Six Pack Ringsi (known as E6PR)- a completely biodegradable and compostable set of six-pack rings made from waste byproducts of the beer-making process and other compostable materials. Salt Water Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida, was the first to use the eco-friendly packaging in 2016, and continues to play a major role in its production. Their rings are 100% edible and safe for digestion by all marine life.