A south Florida brewery is aspiring to transform the craft beer industry — but its latest creation has nothing to do with a new blend of hops.
SaltWater Brewery in Delray Beach recently unrolled a prototype of an edible six-pack ring.
Brewery co-founder Bo Eaton doesn't actually suggest you gnaw into the material. But sea animals can safely eat it rather than get tangled in plastic rings that lands in the ocean and are slow to break down.
Some environmentalists say if SaltWater's claims hold up and the packaging can function as well as traditional plastic rings, it could be a game-changer for the environment.
"I've seen so many animals recovered with (plastic) wrapped around a flipper or a head — a lot more than anyone could know about," said David Godfrey, head of Gainesville-based Sea Turtle Conservatory.
Eaton said he and the other founders are surfers and fishermen first, beer makers second. They've long cared about the environment, so they partnered with New York advertising company We Believers to create the new rings.
The rings are actually made from the by-products of the brewing process — like barley and wheat — and feel and look similar to cardboard, Eaton said.
Unlike plastic, Godfrey said, the edible material shouldn't clog up sea animals' digestive tracts, which often causes death.
If sea turtles and fish decide not to snack on the rings, the company says they're biodegradable and will dissolve in the ocean.
It took months of redesigns and tests before the brewery had its first batch to try out. They're continuing to perfect the method of creating and using the rings in large production before they'll be on the market, Eaton said.
SaltWater has already seen an overwhelming response, especially from fellow brewers who stumbled upon a now-viral Facebook video showing off the product.
Tampa Bay brewers say they're definitely interested.
"I think it's a really neat idea," said Mike Harting, CEO of 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg. "The industry needs other options, and the fact someone has found one that happens to be eco-friendly, too, that's awesome."
Right now Harting pays 10 cents to package every six-pack using thick plastic caps that are found on most craft beers. He said the flimsy rings consumers are used to seeing in supermarkets are usually only available for mass-produced beverages.
The caps, sold through PakTech, are made from recycled plastic and can be reused, but Harting said he'd still be interested in an alternative.
Eaton said the current price of the edible rings is a few cents higher than the plastic caps, but it's a price the company hopes to drive down if enough brewers and big-beer companies commit to using the product.
"The kind of support we're being met with, assuming that holds, that could happen," Eaton said.
Tomo Hirama, a biological scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said plastic is a huge problem in Gulf waters.
The new rings are a step in the right direction, he said, but won't rid the large amount of other plastics he sees in waters — and in turtles' stomachs. He studies beaches from St. Pete to Sarasota.
"Just about everywhere, we have plastic," he said. "There's no doubt about that."
Contact Sara DiNatale at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400. Follow @sara_dinatale.