Really? A Compostable Chip Bag? Made of all plant based materials, every regular size package of Sun Chips – all flavors – started to be packaged in 100% compostable bags in spring 2009. These bags, according to Frito Lay, can be composted and will break-down in a warm compost pile in just 14 weeks. Hopefully, even if thrown into conventional trash bins they will be among the faster things to break down in the dump, watching other chip bags outlive themselves by perhaps hundreds of years.
Frito Lay’s road to a better bag began before the compostable bag with efforts to reduce the material used in their bags by 10%. With this effort they eliminated five billion square inches of packaging, saving both money and landfill space. But this was not enough for Frito Lay, so they embarked upon development of the compostable bag.
The new bag was a success in that it was indeed compostable. As Frito themselves put it, “You eat the chips. The earth eats the bag. And we all live in a cleaner world.” These chip bags are made from a material called PLA – polyactic acid. This is a versatile polymer made from lactic acid, made by the company NatureWorks LLC. Lactic acid is made from fermented dextrose, a type of starch composed of carbon dioxide and water – it comes from plants. That means the main material of this chip bag can be sustainably grown annually, rather than relying on non-renewable petroleum based products used to make conventional chip bags. This reduces greenhouse gases as well as waste.
The compostable bag did not happen all at once or in a vacuum. A chip bag is made up of three layers: An outer layer with the name and product information, an adhesive layer and an inner layer. Frito took their time getting each of these layers right. Of course, even a great idea is likely to have some setbacks. For Sun Chips, the setback was noise.
What’s All This Noise? When the compostable bag hit the shelves people were excited; until they heard the noise. As we all know, chip bags are not silent entities; it is next to impossible to sneak a chip without half of your house hearing you. But with the Sun Chip compostable bag it seemed that half the neighborhood could hear; these bags had a crinkle to end all crinkles.
Of course, in today’s modern internet age the sound of the Sun Chips was heard around the world as Facebook pages and You Tube videos cropped up to complain about the bag. Eventually, more sites arrived to complain about the people who were complaining about the new bag.
A New Chip Bag Dawns Frito Lay’s initial response was to pull the new Sun Chip bags from the market. Then, they decided to sell just the original flavor in these bags, keeping other flavors in the traditional, petroleum based bags. Then, they had an idea. Frito Lay went back to the drawing board and a new, improved compostable bag was born.
In February 2011 Frito Lay announced a new compostable bag. This one includes a new adhesive between the two layers which substantially reduced the crinkle sound. This bag is still being rolled out in various areas, being test marketed on only select flavors of Sun Chips. With a little luck the noise complaints will be quieted and the new environmentally friendly bag can embark on a life of full Sun Chip packaging.
If you are interested in composting your Sun Chips bag, or anything else, Frito Lay has devoted a portion of its website to composting. There you can learn the ins and outs, and everything in between, so you can compost all your organic waste – including Sun Chip bags when they reach your area.