We’ve all seen images of wildlife killed or maimed by plastic six-pack rings. We’ve seen these things scattered across the landscape and floating in our waters. The good news is that each one of us has the power to eliminate this particular threat to our shared environment.
Six-pack rings, also known as “yokes”, are a common and persistent environmental problem that needs to be resolved. Although only 50 years old, this product can be found nearly everywhere and causes a substantial amount of environmental damage. Although this article refers to them as 6-pack rings, this product can actually have any number of rings. And though they are commonly used as packaging for aluminum drink cans, 6-pack rings can be found on many types of products.
Don’t buy anything packaged with plastic 6-pack rings
The best solution is to not create the problem in the first place. If consumer demand for products packaged in 6-pack rings declined, manufacturers would stop producing them. That’s how our economy works. As a consumer, your purchasing decisions have power. Look for products that are in paper packaging or buy individual products and carry them home in a reusable bag.
If you’re feeling extra motivated, you could write to companies that use this packaging for their products. Let them know how unhappy you are with this decision and that you are currently boycotting their products that include 6-pack rings. Consumer opinion does count and has changed how industries design and manufacture products.
Cut the rings
Cutting every hole (not just the primary rings) greatly reduces the chance that an animal will get entangled in the product. This is critical even if you plan on recycling the rings. The rings could blow off a truck or out of the recycling plant and get into the environment. A few seconds of your time could save a life (or several lives).
Recycle the rings
Six-pack rings are made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE). This is the same material that is used to make plastic bags and many types of plastic containers. While the rings themselves are not usually marked, LDPE is identified with the recycling code 4 and is completely recyclable. The code is just an arbitrary number and is used to identify the type of plastic used in a product.
Recycling plastic products has several positive effects. First, it keeps the item from taking up space in a landfill. Second, recycling removes the potential for the product to get out into the environment. Third, recycling used plastic produces less air and water pollution than the production of virgin plastic. Fourth, using recycled plastic reduces our dependence on petroleum. Finally, recycling closes the resource loop. For true sustainability, all waste products need to become feed stock for new products.
Products made from LDPE can’t usually be recycled back into their original form. The recycling process changes the chemical structure of the plastic. However, LDPE products can be recycled into more durable products such as trash cans, lumber, and floor tile.
I don’t consider turning trash into tacky crafts a permanent solution. The new object d’art is most likely going to be discarded soon after its creation anyway. There’s nothing wrong with being craftsy, just have a disposal plan for when you get sick of looking at your creations.
Six-pack beverage can rings are not the largest or most dangerous environmental threat we face. But they do create a tangible and substantial hazard that cannot and should not be ignored. Especially since they are an extremely unnecessary product and the solution is very easy. We need to just stop making the damn things.
Be sure to check out my article on the environmental problems with plastic six-pack rings.