With all its triumphs and sorrows, it isn’t unusual for me to shed a tear during the Olympics games. This year, though, there was an unusual setting for my tears — a commercial. That’s right, there were tears of joy when I saw the SunChips spot. A chips bag composting to some great music right there on national TV.
The compostable bag, made from a corn plastic called polylactic acid (PLA), was scheduled to come out for Earth Day, so I was pleasantly surprised to find them in my local grocery store in mid-March. The SunChips website is largely dedicated to the new bag, including composting information and a description of their own special composter with a glass wall so they could visually document biodegradation of the bag (the basis for their touching commercial).
I got a little worried because the website doesn’t mention anything about documenting the lack of toxic residue, the other critical piece of compostability (in addition to biodegradability). There wasn’t any information about third party testing either. An email from the SunChips Brand Manager clarified that the entire bag (not just the PLA part but the inks and glues too) is certified compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). She went on to say “Our package leaves behind nothing harmful in the soil and does not change the natural mineral composition of the soil when composted.” The next round of packaging will wear the BPI logo.
Next I visited the SunChips Facebook page to see what others think about the new bags. Most people thought it was a good idea and congratulated SunChips on their innovation, but there were complaints about the bag being too noisy (true – perhaps not good for midnight snackers) and some dissatisfaction with a chip company forcing an eco-agenda on the rest of the country. Favorite flavors were declared and there was some discussion about the use of artificial colors and GMO corn, but nobody was actually talking about composting the bag! Tired of hearing me ruminate over this, my sister-in-law posed the question.
Throughout this process my family devoured numerous SunChips, and the resulting bags are in several of my compost piles and bins. Being bags, I gave them a second life as a compost crock liner. That’s a pretty good life for my bags, but where are all the other bags going? The SunChips website clearly says the bags don’t compost in a landfill. They need compost piles to complete their lifecycle. The good news is that they do appear to break down fairly quickly in a home compost pile under ideal conditions (according to SunChips). On the flip side, not everybody composts or has access to a commercial or municipal composting facility.
In my communications with SunChips, they indicated that they are working on promoting composting awareness. I believe they already have, but of course there is more work to be done. I say, let’s not forget the need to improve composting infrastructure, so that people can do something with all that awareness. Still, it is a huge step in the right direction. Way to go SunChips.