By Ben Gruber
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - A small craft beer company in South Florida is trying to make a big impact on oceanic pollution with biodegradable, edible packaging in an eco-friendly twist to protect marine life.
The plastic rings used to package what is perhaps the planet's most popular alcoholic beverage is a menace to birds, turtles and other sea creatures that get tangled in the rings or mistake them as food, say experts.
More than a million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals die from plastic pollution every year, according to UNESCO.
Edible packaging and utensils are not new, but applying the concept to beer packaging is. Since releasing a marketing video earlier this month, the idea has received a good deal of attention.
"I have over 150 different breweries - including the large guys - wanting to get on board right away," said Chris Gove, the owner of Saltwater Brewery, a small craft beer company in Delray Beach, Florida.
Saltwater Brewery would not disclose exactly which brands had already expressed interest in the eco-friendly packaging, but said "rest assured, the world's players are catching on."
According to media reports, Denmark-based Carlsberg, one of the world's largest brewers, has expressed interest in the eco-friendly packaging solution.
The idea and prototypes, developed by Gove in partnership with New York-based ad agency We Believers, could potentially have a significant environmental impact if the rings were adopted for industry-wide use. An estimated 69 billion cans of beer are consumed annually.
The edible rings are made from wheat and barley used during the brewing process. The spent grains, normally sold off as cattle feed, are treated with additives and pressed to form the rings. The molding process, says Gove, is proprietary and the company has filed for patents.
"This packaging goes beyond recycling and strives to achieve zero waste," said Marco Vega, co-founder of We Believers.
The team is exploring how to scale up production. Even at a slightly higher price point, Gove believes people will pay the difference to protect the oceans.
With summer soon in full swing, Gove is going to brew a lot of beer, content in the knowledge that its packaging could feed a turtle, as opposed to harming it.
"We have run the numbers and it looks very cost-effective, especially on the scaling side since the breweries have already invested in it," said Gove.
(Reporting by Ben Gruber, editing by G Crosse)