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I was watching the male figure skating program last night. It wasn’t on the season pass list, so I didn’t have it TiVoed. I actually had to watch commercials. I am so glad I did. There was a commercial for Frito-Lay’s SunChips brand. (A healthy snack that I can’t have in the house because they cease to be healthy. I love them so much I eat entire bags in a single sitting.)

The commercial shows an empty bag slowly decomposing into nothingness. The world’s first 100 percent decomposable chip bag. Text comes on the screen explaining how the new bags are made from plant materials, and how they are coming this April for Earth Day.

I loved it. We boat, and I can’t tell you how many empty chip bags I pull out of the water while tooting around the Great South Bay. I wanted to learn more so I went to the SunChips site. I was instantly excited when I saw the company’s marketing: “So you eat the chips. The earth eats the bag. And we all live in a cleaner world.” But once I read on, I was a little disappointed. Here’s the thing: the bag won’t decompose unless conditions are right. From the SunChips Web site: “What we have found is that under aerobic compost conditions at >55˚C the film structure breaks down very quickly – about 12-16 weeks. These conditions are typical for an industrial compost facility. Additionally, we have found that under anaerobic conditions (similar to what would be found in a landfill) no significant decomposition takes place. This means that the new film would not decompose in a properly maintained landfill.” It didn’t say anything about whether or not it decomposes while floating around in the ocean, but this means that if you throw away the bag, it’s still going to be around in 100 years.

I can’t really complain too much. The company is doing a lot for the environment. The chips are manufactured in a plant right here in the U.S. that uses solar power. Plus, SunChips are probably one of the healthiest mainstream chip out there. The ingredients are simple: Whole Corn, Sunflower Oil, Whole Wheat, Rice Flour, Whole Oat Flour, Sugar, and Salt. Not a bit of high fructose or hydrogenated oils anywhere. But there is more they can do. I’d like to see the Frito-Lay folks extend the bag into its other lines, and I’d like to see them make the whole must-be-composted thing more visible and understandable. If you watch the commercial, at first glance, you think it will decompose anywhere it ends up. And that’s obviously not the case.

And so, in the spirit of the Winter Olympics I must give Frito Lay and SunChips a 72.5 out of 100. Its new “costume” is memorable. In fact, it’s a great idea. It just needs a little more teasing out. Not to mention more visibility. People can’t dispose of the bags correctly unless they know how. It would be great if Frito-Lay actually helped sponsor a program to get people composting. Even those who live in apartments can compost with special trashcans that sit under the sink.

Do you compost? Would you? What do you think of the SunChips advertising campaign? Is the compostable bag all smoke and mirrors or a genuinely good idea?

4 Responses to “SunChips and Compost: 72.5 out of 100”

  1. susan delg says:

    Composting is one of the things that we’ve been doing for years. If I find a banana peel in the trash can, I get all huffy and walk around the house with it until I make my point: COMPOST PEOPLE! I’ll do the experiment with the next Sun Chips bag to enter my house, and see if it breaks down in my compost pile. I’d be so excited if it did!

  2. SunChips says:

    Karen, thanks for your support of the new SunChips compostable bag. We understand your concerns and are working with a number of partners this year to create educational materials around composting. If you’d like more information about composting, please visit http://www.sunchips.com and stay tuned for some composting partnership announcements in the next few months.

  3. Sweet! Keep it up!

  4. Amateur Scientist says:

    I did my middle school science experiment on this recently. After 12 weeks in an active compost bin very little changed. 4 of the bags had large rips, but they were very uniform and seemed like they were mechanically caused, possibly they got stuck on something while the bin was turned. For contrast, the paper bags decomposed almost completely in 6 weeks, and the regular plastic and tostitos bag did nothing. Good try, but 136 degrees is completely unrealistic for home composting.

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