SURF CITY — Nearly two years after becoming Pender County’s original brewery, Salty Turtle Beer Company is now tackling another first — as the first brewery in North Carolina to use biodegradable, compostable can ring holders.
The product was launched in 2018 by a Florida brewery as a way to protect marine wildlife from plastic pollution, including several species of sea turtles native to the Florida coast.
After working the end of the line during the brewery’s initial canning run on Tuesday, co-owner Dan Callendar said the can holder, made by a company called E6PR in Mexico, was a pioneering product in the world of beer distribution. Made of wheat and barley from brewers’ waste, it was designed to replace its traditional plastic counterpart.
In a time when an increasing amount of plastic clogs the world’s waterways and oceans, ensnaring wildlife and harming animals when swallowed, Callendar was excited to use a product that so fluidly aligns with the brewery’s goal of helping protect the coastal environment.
True to its namesake, he said Salty Turtle already makes quarterly donations to Surf City’s famous Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital. They have so far raised $5,000 for the hospital, he said.
The product was first distributed by Saltwater Brewery in southern Florida, 130 miles up the coast from the world’s first state-licensed veterinary sea turtle hospital in the Florida Keys.
Callendar said he received a message from a company representative confirming that Salty Turtle was the first brewery in North Carolina to use the so-called ‘eco rings.’ Since its 2018 launch, breweries in Europe, South Africa, Australia, and South America have started using the eco-friendly product — more than 50 breweries, according to the company’s website.
Corona and Guinness are also beginning to use the eco rings in their own distribution facilities.
Ricardo Mulás, the company’s chief financial officer, told Forbes in March that although the E6PR is degradable and digestible, he doesn’t necessarily recommend it as a snack.
“The eco rings are manufactured with natural fibers, so when it comes out of production one can take a bite out of it,” Mulás told Forbes. “I have. It has no taste and has no nutritious value.”
Neither should anyone feed it to wildlife, he said, but rather compost it or throw it away, where it should biodegrade in a landfill.
Canning service opens door for small-scale distribution
A Greenville company called Tap Hopper Canning set up its canning equipment in the middle of a cramped Salty Turtle brewhouse Tuesday morning. When the brewery expanded from a three-barrel system to a seven-barrel system in August, Callendar said they needed a distribution channel to match expanded production.
The first beers to be filled in cans were the Hey Zay IPA and Swingbridge Breakfast Stout, both of which will be available for sale in the taproom on Thursday.
Although Salty Turtle already distributes kegs to a few restaurants in the Triangle, including The Raleigh Times in downtown Raleigh, he hopes the cans will increase people’s awareness of the brewery before they head to the coast.
“At the end of day it’s advertising for us,” Callendar said. “Hopefully that drives people to the beach and to the taproom.”
He also said third party canners like Tap Hopper allow small breweries to enter the distribution game without the significant investment required for equipment and additional space. He estimated at least a $150,000 investment would be required to can beer themselves.
In a craft brewery industry reaching a plateau after a decade of hyper expansion, Callendar said it was crucial to wisely manage growth in a time when only the strong survive.
“You can see the decline in breweries starting up and actually an increase in breweries closing up shop, because it’s just tapped out,” he said. “The last thing you want to do is invest in a whole production facility yourself, caught up in all this debt, and all-of-the-sudden you’re making too much beer and you can’t sell it. A third party canning service is huge.”
Tap Hopper owner and CEO Patrick Sanecki said his company cans for several other breweries along the North Carolina coast, including Bill’s Brewing in Wilmington and Shortway Brewing in Newport. By providing the equipment and the exact amount of cans and supplies needed, Tap Hopper allows microbreweries to distribute without any waste.
“It’s great for places like this which have tight spaces and no places to store stuff, and don’t want to deal with managing five different orders,” Sanecki said.
He said Salty Turtle is his first client to use the eco rings, and he is currently in discussions with E6PR to introduce the product into his own supply chain. Although the product is roughly double the price of traditional plastic ring holders, he predicted that to change in the future as it gains popularity.
“The environmental return is worth it, and as people start using it more, prices should drop over time,” Sanecki said. “This is a better product than the cardboard handles some people are using. This is made of brewers’ waste — they dry it, pack it out, and make fiber out of it. When it gets wet it doesn’t fall apart like cardboard.”
See a photo gallery of Salty Turtle’s first canning run, from start to finish, below:
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com or (970) 413-3815