If you’ve grown up in an American household, the plastic rings that hold cans of beer or soda together are most likely very familiar. If you’ve ever pulled a can out of one of those six-packs, you probably already know how irritatingly strong that plastic is. As a child, I often found those holders lying on the kitchen counter or sitting atop the trash can and, more than once, I tried to tear the rings apart with my bare hands. Of course, I was never able to. Instead, I’d find again and again that those rings, which can stretch several times their size, were more likely to create cuts in my reddened hands than get torn. Defeated, I would toss the plastic rings back into the trash and wonder why they were made to be so durable when they would be disposed after one use.
Now, as an adult, I have learned that those seemingly harmless plastic rings have a detrimental effect on the environment but still have no clear answer as to why they are still used or how to properly dispose of them. According to the article “The Deadly Truth About Trash” by The Humane Society of the United States, a large portion of the 250 million tons of trashdiscarded by Americans every year ends up in the wild and in the oceans (Johnson). It was reported in the same article that the Ocean Conservancy’s 2008 International Coastal cleanup gathered 3.7 million pounds of trash from U.S. shorelines in just one day. Off the shores of California exists the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, a concentration of plastic and nonbiodegradable trash which is essentially a poisoned all-you-can-eat buffet for marine life (Johnson).
Trash items, such as plastic ring holders, cannot be digested but are often eaten by fish and birds that do not know better. Even the wildlife that does not eat the plastic garbage floating in their habitats are affected by its presence since they may eat fish that have ingested plastic or may become snared in things such as the holders – which are practically invisible underwater and, therefore, difficult to avoid. Large companies such as Coca-Cola claim that their ring holders break down into smaller pieces when exposed to sunlight and consequently will not harm wildlife. However, the breaking down of the plastic does not eliminate the damage done if an animal or fish ate it, it only reduces the harm. Similarly, snipping apart the plastic holders before recycling them does not eliminate the harm done if they are ingested. More upsettingly, statistics show that of the 44 million pounds of waste that New Yorkers produce each day, only one third is recycled. So even if you snip those pesky plastic holders, chances are that they are still ending up in the ocean or in some landfill.
So what do we do with those plastic ring holders? One possibility is to contact an organization that specifically recycles plastic rings, such as The Ring Leader Recycling Program or Earth911. I intend on gathering holders from now and contacting a local program instead of putting them in the recycling bin. However, a smarter long-term approach would be to petition to replace all plastic holders with edible holders, which were invented by a South Floridian brewery and are completely safe and even beneficial to wildlife. Although it is much easier to just cut the holders instead of going the extra step and properly disposing them, we have a responsibility to the inhabitants of the environments we are polluting and should actively correct our collective mistakes.