Brewery bosses have come up with a novel idea to cut the appalling toll that discarded plastic is taking on sea life: edible Beer can holders.
The binders, which hold cans together, are currently among the most destructive waste dropped into our oceans because they are often mistaken for jellyfish and swallowed by larger fish, while smaller fish and birds can easily become tangled in their loops.
But the new binders, devised by the Saltwater Brewery in Florida, are made using by-products from the brewing process and can be eaten by marine animals.
And if they are not consumed, the binders are fully biodegradable and quickly disintegrate.
Marco Vega, of the brewery’s advertising agency, said: ‘Initially we wanted to make the rings from seaweed but it was too fragile and rigid. But what we have come up with works perfectly and is safe in the sea.’
The brewery has made metal moulds capable of churning out 400,000 binders a month at a cost of 17p each compared to 11p for their plastic ones.
But it says that, if big beer companies implement this technology, the manufacturing cost will drop and become very competitive.
It also believes customers will pay extra because of the environmental benefits of the rings.
The edible beer can holders fit the six-packs typically sold in the United States, but could easily work on four-packs more common in Britain.
Greenpeace has thrown its weight behind the invention and hopes UK brewers will adopt the idea. Already major brewers including Carlsberg and hundreds of smaller craft breweries are in talks with Saltwater about the binders.
But Dr Sue Kinsey, senior pollution policy officer at the Marine Conservation Society, sounded a note of caution.
She said: ‘Wheat and barley by-products [from brewing beer], while better than plastic, aren’t a natural diet for marine life and, if ingested, the effects are still unknown. The best thing would be is not to throw these things away in the first place.’
A recent report from US scientific research group PNAS said that about 90 per cent of seabirds have eaten plastic and predicted that, by 2050, any seabird found dead will have plastic in its stomach.
Louisa Casson, Greenpeace UK Oceans Campaigner, said: ‘Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing our oceans. To protect life, we need to end the era of single-use plastic.
The world’s biggest soft-drinks firms admitted last week that just 6.6 per cent of the more than two million ton of plastic bottles they make globally each year comes from recycled material.
The percentage came to light in the first attempt to estimate the companies’ plastic footprint, but the figure is actually likely to be far lower because Coca-Cola – the world’s biggest producer of soft drinks – refused to participate in the study.
In January, Prince Charles backed a campaign to stop plastic being dumped in the oceans and called for a deposit scheme for bottles.
The Prince, who has long been outspoken on environmental matters, said plastic was building up in the guts of sea creatures, polluting beaches and the ocean floor.