SaltWater Brewery of Delray Beach, Florida, is using a biodegradable and compostable six-pack ring design made from wheat and barley instead of plastic, according to Fast Company. A startup called E6PR — for "eco six-pack ring" — produced the new packaging design, which it claims will not hurt animals who consume it.
E6PR plans to manufacture future versions of the six-pack ring from beer-making byproducts at a factory in Mexico. Once the company gets through the current live-testing phase with SaltWater beer products, it will reach out to other craft breweries for orders. Packaging options for soda and other beverages are also on the drawing board, Fast Company reported.
While the biodegradable six-pack ring had been in the works for some time, E6PR was only formed last year by We Believers, a New York City ad agency; Entelequia, a Mexican supplier of biodegradable materials; and a group of unnamed investors in the beverage packaging industry.
Other creative food and beverage packaging ideas using biodegradable materials have been emerging lately. Five winners of a Plastics Economy Innovation Prize were just announced Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The winners will share a $1 million prize from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and take part in a year-long accelerator program with Think Beyond Plastic, an organization focused on commercializing research and innovation in "bio-benign" materials for use in packaging design.
Despite all this innovation, even the best intentions can yield undesirable results. In 2010, Frito-Lay rebranded Sun Chips by placing them in a new, high-tech package that was said to be 100% compostable. Customers complained the bags made too much noise. Sun Chips later returned to the original bag.
Given the sustainability factor of the biodegradable six-pack rings, SaltWater Brewery appears to have found a unique way to stand out in today's crowded beer market and, at the same time, appeal to consumers who care about the environment and want retailers to be more transparent about their efforts. Beyond addressing social and environmental concerns, such measures put a human face to products that can oftentimes feel impersonal to consumers.
Shoppers also are willing to pay more for products they see as premium, are environmentally conscious and mission-based. Sustainable packaging — boxed water, wood-based bottles, edible containers made from mushrooms and seaweed — can be an innovative and lucrative way for brands to gain a health halo and refresh their image without having to reformulate their products.
To interest the larger players in the beer industry, those behind the biodegradable six-pack ring know they have to be able to produce enough of them at a reasonable cost.
Starting with craft breweries is smart, and if the current trial proves popular, expect the company to connect with larger customers. One of the final hurdles involves consumers liking the design, finding it convenient and feeling good about helping the environment and wildlife with their purchase.