It is widely understood that plastic pollution poses a major threat to marine life. One of the most dangerous and talked about forms of plastic pollution is six-pack rings. Marine organisms slowly die from the suffocation/strangulation as a result of being caught in the plastic rings. It is suggested to cut up the six-pack rings before disposal. While this may help with entanglement, it does not address the issue of the plastic photodegrading over time into plastic pieces smaller than five millimeters (microplastics), which are, in turn, ingested.
Recently, a Florida craft beer brewery introduced “edible and biodegradable six-pack rings.” The brewery created this new packaging by using the barley and wheat byproducts from their beer. The mainstream media is devouring their claims that marine life will be able to safely consume these new rings. However, the science community isn’t so sure.
Scientists are now questioning the overall safety of these rings for marine life. Are these plastic-less rings safe for consumption? What are the long-term effects and implications for marine life? Ramani Narayan, an expert on degradable plastics and professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at Michigan State University, expressed concerns over the inorganic compounds that would result as the barley and wheat byproducts are broken down, including phosphorus and silicon. These compounds could travel up the food web and biomagnify to potentially dangerous levels by the time it reaches your plate (Loepp 2016).
While it is great to see large companies voicing their concern and taking a positive interest in protecting the marine environment, it is always necessary to question the validity and safety of their product(s). These biodegradable rings offer hope and promise but additional research is required to truly understand the long-term impacts.
Marine Debris Intern
Loepp, D. (2016, June 3). Edible six-pack rings? Not so fast! Retrieved June 17, 2016, from http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20160602/BLOG01/160609914/edible-six-pack-rings-not-so-fast