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Could biodegradable six-pack rings save the sea turtles?

A Florida beverage company has helped invent biodegradable and edible rings that, if used widely, it hopes could reduce the harmful impact of plastics on oceans and wildlife.

A Florida craft beer maker has replaced the harmful plastic of six-pack rings with ones made out of the barley and wheat leftover from the beermaking process.

In a project led by New York ad agency We Believers, the partners have engineered rings that are biodegradable and perhaps even edible – although this has not be proven – by marine animals that often fall victim to entanglement, strangulation, and deadly digestive problems caused by the ubiquitous rings that are used to package cans of soda and beer and end up in the oceans and in other natural habitats.

“We believed in it so much,” Chris Gove, Saltwater Brewery president, told Mashable. “It came about through a love for the ocean and truly caring for the environment.”

The edible rings are patent pending, with 500 of them produced last month as a prototype. Gove told Mashable that his team hopes to produce the rings widely by early fall, and by 2017 to spread the invention to other craft breweries.

"I think it's a really neat idea," Mike Harting, chief executive officer of 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg, Fla., told the Tampa Bay Times. "The industry needs other options, and the fact someone has found one that happens to be eco-friendly, too, that's awesome."

For now the edible 6-pack rings cost a few cents more than the plastic ones, which run about $.10 apiece, but that price could come down if the new rings are widely adopted by the beverage industry.

"The kind of support we're being met with, assuming that holds, that could happen," brewery co-founder Bo Eaton told the Times.

Plastic debris is accumulating in the oceans at an alarming rate. And it’s everywhere: floating in the deep sea, buried in Arctic ice, and being ingested with deadly consequences for about 700 species of marine wildlife.

In 2010 about 8 million tons of plastic trash ended up in the ocean from coastal countries, an amount that is likely to increase tenfold in the next decade without changes to garbage collection and management, according to a study described last year by National Geographic. That amount of plastic is like lining up five grocery bags of trash on every foot of coastline around the globe, explains a study author.

“And by 2025, those five grocery bags of plastic are going to be ten bags," Jenna Jambeck, the University of Georgia environmental engineer who led the study, told National Geographic.

While the biodegradable rings are promising, but it’s not yet clear whether they’re safe for marine wildlife to ingest, since wheat and barley are not part of their natural diet. Research is needed to determine this.

“Obviously it’s better than plastic, there’s no doubt about that,” Jennie Gilbert, co-founder of Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre in Australia, told Australian Geographic. “But does it cause a long-term effect if they ingest it, does it cause problems? We don’t know that,” she said.

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