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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Six Year Six Pack Ring

Air Date: Week of

Six years ago, a concerned citizen invented an environmentally sound beverage six pack ring. After licensing, the invention is still sitting on the shelf. Commentator Sy Montgomery wonders why.


CURWOOD: Environmentally sound innovations don't always get enthusiastic receptions from the world of business, says Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery.

MONTGOMERY: Joan Gordon, a former geologist from Chicago, was reading an article on plastic trash in the ocean. The picture showed a seagull with a 6-pack ring stuck in its beak, twisted around it head, slowly strangling. She just couldn't look. She flipped the page, and saw the sidebar to the story: what you can do. Cut the loops of 6-pack carriers before throwing them into the trash, it said; but she realized almost no one would bother.

So that minute, she put down the magazine, went into her kitchen, and began to build a design that would automatically break the ring of the 6-pack yoke when you pulled out the can. Within a few days she completed the first prototype. In the weeks that followed, she invented and patented about a dozen variations. In each, the yoke is designed with perforations and attaches to the can so that the act of pulling the can out makes it impossible for that ring to strangle an animal. She trademarked her invention "the freedom ring."

Joan Gordon contacted the major bottling companies. They were enthusiastic. She got in touch with the plastic yoke manufacturers. They were receptive. They invited her in to show her design, and were so impressed they licensed her patent. And now should come the happy ending: all-American ingenuity solves the problem. But that's not what happened.

It's now 6 years later. Nothing like the freedom ring is available. Plastics manufacturers have published ads touting their commitment to environmental responsibility. The problem has been solved, they tell us, because the rings, when exposed to direct sunlight, will eventually disintegrate. That's nothing new, and has been the case for well over a decade. Not every environmental problem has a technological fix, but this one does. A fix that one woman, moved by the plight of a strangling seagull, saw in one evening in her Chicago kitchen. It's now 6 years later and animals are still needlessly strangling.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery lives and writes in New Hampshire. Her latest book is called The Spell of the Tiger.



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