In a bid to reduce waste and the damage that single-use plastics cause in the world’s oceans, Florida’s SaltWater Brewery launched an innovative new biodegradable beer packaging this January. Founded in 2013, the microbrewery aims to create natural craft beers that do not cost the ocean. The latest in its efforts to reduce the damage – it has donated to various charities in the past, including Coastal Conservation Florida, Surfrider, Ocean Foundation, and Mote Marine Laboratory – is the development of the new Eco Six-Pack Ring, or E6PR, in partnership with biodegradable-materials supplier Entelequia and advertising agency We Believers.
Environmental activists have long urged consumers to cut up their plastic can holders before throwing them away, as they can poison, entangle, suffocate and otherwise impair a wide variety of sea life, from turtles to birds. But SaltWater’s E6PR is made from digestible materials that will biodegrade at a much faster rate, both on land and in the sea, and won’t harm any creatures that happen to encounter them. Sustainably manufactured using barley and wheat, which are natural by-products of the brewing process, it’s designed to be entirely compostable and biodegradable, while being strong enough to transport cans just as effectively as its more traditional predecessor.
During the product’s prototype phase in 2016, SaltWater Brewery’s president, Chris Gove, revealed his aspirations for the E6PR: ‘We want to influence the big guys and inspire them to get on board.’ We Believers co-founder, Marco Vega, is equally convinced of the product’s far-reaching potential: ‘We want this to be the zero-waste, zero-carbon-footprint solution for the industry,’ he said. Given these high hopes, it’s unsurprising that the packaging took so long to pass from prototype to marketable product. The next step will be to adapt it to withstand not only the wear-and-tear of the shop shelves, but also the industrial packing, storing and shipping processes used by larger beer manufacturers.
In recent years, the fight against plastic packaging has come to the forefront of environmental initiatives, particularly in the food-and-drink industry, with the negative impact of single-use straws, water bottles and supermarket bags coming under increasing scrutiny. The Plastics Pledge, led by Greenpeace, and the Last Plastic Straw movement, backed by the Plastic Pollution Coalition, both encourage consumers to choose plastic-free alternatives and cut down on non-recyclable waste, so much of which ends up in the sea. Shockingly, if we don’t act now, the Plastic Pollution Coalition claims that, by weight, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.
Although six-pack rings make up only a small percentage of the six tonnes of waste that pollute our seas each year, innovations such as the E6PR could help reduce this damage. The Circular Materials Challenge and the Innovation Prize, established by the New Plastics Economy, an initiative spearheaded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, are among a number of recently established incentives. The latest winners of the prize, announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos this January, included makers of compostable packages for crisps and granola bars, bioplastics made from wood and plant waste, and edible single-use sachets made from seaweed. If consumers and manufacturers are willing to pay more for these biodegradable alternatives, products such as SaltWater Brewery’s E6PR could be in the vanguard of a revolution in the beer industry and beyond.
Words: guest writer Lily Taylor
Image courtesy of Saltwater Brewery