Maine Debates Beverage Rings

Augusta, Maine - The battle of paper vs. plastic six-pack beverage rings is taking place in Maine.

If companies like International Paper have their way, the public will tote a cluster of beverage cans with a paperboard six-pack ring instead of plastic. Meantime, plastic ring manufacturers are hoping to keep their materials on the grocer's shelf as well as diminish environmental concerns that the plastic-ring carriers may be dangerous to birds and other wildlife.

Legislators in Maine first outlawed traditional plastic ring carriers in 1989, but delayed the ban several times while awaiting the emergence of an acceptable substitute. "The practical matter of it has been that there are no viable alternatives," said State Rep. Paul Jacques.

Plastic rings, first introduced in 1962, have become the industry standard. The plastic becomes brittle and crumbles when exposed to sunlight and new versions let consumers break the rings. However, no one has been able to design a plastic ring that automatically splits when the can is removed.

The trick is to develop paperboard rings that respond to public environmental concerns and still can stand up to humidity and rough use. Some Maine bottlers are waiting for a favorable consumer response before they switch; others would rather recycle the plastic than buy new machinery.

While Maine lawmakers are cautiously optimistic, the state ban on plastic carriers is on hold until 1996. "Whoever comes up with the better mousetrap in this case will win the market share," said Rep. Jacques.