Florida-based Saltwater Brewery has used by-products from the beer-making process to create six-pack rings that can safely be eaten by marine wildlife (+ slideshow).
According to international organisation Greenpeace, around 100 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, of which about 10 million tonnes ends up in the sea and is able to be ingested by marine life.
The organisation claims 50 to 70 per cent of seabirds and up to 80 per cent of sea turtles in any given population are known to have digested debris like plastic.
In response to this, Saltwater and We Believers used by-products from the brewing process to develop what they believe to be the first ever 100 per cent biodegradable, compostable and edible packaging to be implemented in the beer industry.
"Americans drank 6.3 billion gallons of beer in 2015," said the company. "A full 50 per cent of that volume is sold in cans [but] the problem with cans is they come together with plastic six-pack rings."
"For a long time, it was one of the best packaging design solutions – it is lightweight, resistant and easy to carry," they continued. "[The problem is] most of these plastic six-pack rings end up in our oceans and pose a serious threat to wildlife."
The team initially experimented with seaweed but soon realised it became too rigid outside of water – which meant it might cut or choke an animal that came across it washed up on the shore.
Instead, they moulded wheat and barley left over from the brewing process into the typical packaging shape.
"If our six-pack ring ends up in the ocean, in a matter of hours it starts breaking down, which also addresses the issue of animals getting stuck in them," Gustavo Lauria, co-founder of We Believers, told sustainability blog Treehugger.
The company aims to produce 400,000 edible six-pack rings per month. According to Lauria, the first mass-produced batch will cost between 10 and 15 US cents per unit.
"We hope to influence the big guys and hopefully inspire them to get on board," said Saltwater Brewery president Chris Goves.
The team at Saltwater Brewery discuss their design in a video
To combat the volume of plastic waste, designers are increasingly applying bio-based packaging solutions.
One team from Japan created a Lexus Design Award-winning prototype plastic alternative from seaweed, while material science company Ecovative won the Design Museum's 2015 Design of the Year award for its packaging made from agricultural byproducts and mushroom mycelium.