Thousands of animals, from small finches to great white sharks, die grisly deaths each year from eating or getting caught in plastic that accumulates in our oceans at an alarming rate. So why not do something to minimize the avalanche of plastic trash and save lives?
Why not edible six-pack rings?
And that's just what SaltWater Brewery in Florida has come up with. Here's what the company says:
"Most plastic beer six‐pack rings end up in our oceans and pose a serious threat to wildlife. Together with We Believers, we designed, tested and prototyped the first ever Edible Six Pack Rings, six‐pack packaging, made with byproducts of the beer making process, that instead of killing animals, feeds them. They are also 100% biodegradable and compostable."
We produce more than 300 million tons of plastic annually. That's equivalent to the combined weight of all adult humans on earth. Nearly half of this we use once and then throw away. In just the first decade of this century, we made more plastic than all the plastic in history up to the year 2000.
Much of it is discarded on land, but is carried by wind, rain, and runoff to the oceans, where it accumulates year after year after year. That's because plastic is so durable that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports "every bit of plastic ever made still exists."
The North Pacific Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is twice the size of Texas and growing. It consists mostly of small plastic particles that suspend at or just below the surface, where fish and other animals mistake them for food. Plastic there is more prevalent than real food, like zooplankton, by about 6 to 1, according to scientists.
This is but one of five such convergence zones in our oceans.
Following are some sobering statistics about discarded plastic from the Center on Biological Diversity:
Fish in the North Pacific ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year, which can cause intestinal injury and death and transfers plastic up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals.
Sea turtles also mistake floating plastic garbage for food. While plastic bags are the most commonly ingested item, loggerhead sea turtles have been found with soft plastic, ropes, Styrofoam, and monofilament lines in their stomachs. Ingestion of plastic can lead to blockage in the gut, ulceration, internal perforation and death; even if their organs remain intact, turtles may suffer from false sensations of satiation and slow or halt reproduction.
Hundreds of thousands of seabirds ingest plastic every year. Plastic ingestion reduces the storage volume of the stomach, causing birds to consume less food and ultimately starve. Nearly all Laysan albatross chicks — 97.5 percent — have plastic pieces in their stomachs; their parents feed them plastic particles mistaken for food. Based on the amount of plastic found in seabird stomachs, the amount of garbage in our oceans has rapidly increased in the past 40 years.
Marine mammals ingest and get tangled in plastic. Large amounts of plastic debris have been found in the habitat of endangered Hawaiian monk seals, including in areas that serve as pup nurseries. Entanglement deaths are severely undermining recovery efforts of this seal, which is already on the brink of extinction. Entanglement in plastic debris has also led to injury and mortality in the endangered Steller sea lion, with packing bands the most common entangling material. In 2008 two sperm whales were found stranded along the California coast with large amounts of fishing net scraps, rope and other plastic debris in their stomachs.