May 20, 2016 | By Alec

Thanks to a growing interest in craft beer, microbreweries have been popping up all over the US in the last few years. All seek to bring that one appealing, local and unique touch to their products, which has resulted in so many fantastic beers already. But one seaside brewery from Florida called Saltwater Brewery has taken their commitment to local culture to the next level. Specifically aimed at beachside bars, surfers and swimmers, they have sought to tackle one of the major beer drinking problems that can be seen at the beach: the discarded six-pack rings that fill the oceans, where they strangle or poison marine wildlife. Their solution? Edible 3D printed rings.

Now you might think: surely the six-pack ring problem was solved decades ago? Well, they’ve tried. The problems first surfaced in the 1970s, when images of fish, birds and other sea creatures stuck in six-pack rings appeared all over the news. In the 1990s, it even featured on an episode of the Simpsons. The problem is that most of the discarded six-pack rings end up in the ocean, where animals can get stuck in them (seriously inhibiting their ability to live normally) or even try to eat them. If the chemicals don’t kill them immediately, there’s still a good chance digestive systems are clogged with plastic, effectively starving the creatures.

In response to the public outcry that followed, beer manufacturers have mostly switched to a photo-degradable plastic, which dissolves in sunlight (enforced by law since 1989). It sounds like a great solution, but it actually takes 90 days for the plastic to start to disintegrate, while the damage can be done on day one. And it takes a lot longer than 90 days for the rings to fully fall apart. This means that the problems of five decades ago are still around, but at a higher level than ever before. Right now, Americans drink 6.3 billion gallons of beer – half of which is sold in cans. And most of them are packaged in six-packs.

Through their close links with the sea-loving community, Florida-based Saltwater Brewery was only all too familiar with this problem. Deciding to take matters in their own hands, they teamed up with NY-based agency We Believers to develop edible six-pack rings made from left over brewing products – wheat and barley. Not just very biodegradable in water, the materials are also safe to eat for all animals (including humans). It is believed to be the world’s first fully edible and biodegradable six-pack ring solution, but they are also easily strong enough to carry the weight of six beer cans.

This innovative product is especially remarkable because Saltwater Brewery is just a modest craft brewery who could, like so many others, just say ‘we’re too small to make a difference’ and nod their head in disappointment. “It shows that through innovation the little guys can point the finger at governments and big business to motivate change that impacts our world and the one we will leave for our children,” said Gustavo Lauria, We Believers’ founder and CCO.

As Lauria explained, these edible rings were digitally designed, with the final molds being 3D printed. These have already been used to make the first batch of 500 edible rings for Saltwater Brewery's flagship IPA. Introduced in April at local events and venues, the rings were a huge hit with consumers. Many said that the rings were much more durable than they looked, while numerous people could not resist taking a bite out of the rings themselves. Perhaps not the nicest beer snack, but the most responsible.

But the brewery is ambitious, and is aiming to turn this into something greater than a Florida seaside gimmick. Working with engineers from Mexico, they are currently working hard to set up production facilities to manufacture 400,000 edible six-pack rings per month – enough to cover the brewery’s entire monthly production. The only downside is that these rings are more expensive to produce than the conventional plastic alternatives – costing between 10 and 15 cents per unit, pushing the costs of a craft beer six-pack over $10.

This is not a huge problem so far – customers have repeatedly argued that they are willing to pay a bit extra to save marine life. Over time, however, the company hopes to convince other breweries to get onboard with this project too, which would push down costs considerably. “If most craft breweries and big beer companies implement this technology, the manufacturing cost will drop and be very competitive compared with the current plastic solution, while saving hundreds of thousands of marine lives,” they said.

While the full details of the production process behind the edible rings are still closely guarded, the initial results are certainly promising. This is exactly the type of solution our plastic-addicted societies could use. Other alternatives for six-pack rings have, of course, emerged already – the top-hugging holder you see on many craft beers works well too. But they are still, of course, made from plastic. And with estimates suggesting that there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2035, completely plastic-free solutions are definitely necessary. Fortunately, beer drinkers can now do their part too.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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Mike wrote at 7/11/2016 3:50:31 PM:

Packaging material already is, not from beer production by products, but from fungus... and this particular brand is made in the USA. I don't know if i would take a bite though.

John wrote at 6/1/2016 9:40:31 PM:

@ Nancy. It's probably cheaper.

N S wrote at 5/22/2016 4:32:02 PM:

If eatable/biodegradable can rings can be made, why not shopping bags? Shopping bags and packing material are a much bigger market segments.

Nancy wrote at 5/21/2016 6:34:05 PM:

I Love the Idea but you lost my enthusiasm at working with Engineers from Mexico to implement production. HELLO what's wrong with the United States for production.



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