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Compostable Chip Bags: Marketing Ploy Or Environmental Good Deed

New compostable packaging by snack companies breaks down in 14 weeks in a compost pile, but what happens when it winds up in a landfill?

bucket compost

Photo: arimoore

As the name suggest, compostable chip bags are only useful if they make their way into compost piles. What happens to the bags when they wind up in landfills?

About a month ago, Frito-Lay announced the first 100% compostable chip bag for their SunChips brand chips. The new bags, made with renewable, plant based materials, break down in 14 weeks in a hot compost bin, and come Earth Day (April 22nd), they will be rolled out to all of North America.

Now, Snyder’s of Hanover has followed suit and launched a new line of plant-based packaging for their pretzels.

The main claims to environmental responsibility made by Snyder’s new bags are that the 90% plant-based bags require half the energy to produce and emit 52% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than similar petroleum-based packaging.

Of course, it’s a cool idea — toss your empty chip bag in your compost, wait 14 weeks for it to break down (according to Frito Lay) and then put it right back into the earth.

Watch an ad for Frito Lay’s compostable SunChips bag:

But is this just another marketing strategy to seduce consumers’ inner environmentalists?

As the name suggests, compostable bags are only effective if composted. But the reality is that very few communities have municipal compost services, and the majority of Americans still don’t compost at their homes.

No BPI Logo? “Discard As Trash”

The Biodegradable Product Institute (BPI), an organization that certifies whether a product can be labeled “biodegradable”, has expressed reservations about the use of the term in reference to materials that end up not as compost, but in landfills:

The overwhelming majority of consumers believe that these products will “biodegrade” in landfills. Yet, today’s landfills are engineered to eliminate moisture and to retard biodegradation. In fact, researchers have found in landfills legible 30 year old newspapers; 5 year old lettuce and 10 year old hotdogs.

Neither Frito Lays nor Snyder’s bags have yet to receive approval from the BPI to adorn their bags with their logo and the “biodegradable” label.

Harvard University director of recycling and waste management Rob Gogan, speaking with the NY Times Green, Inc. blog said he would “discard the bags as trash” without the BPI logo.

Laura Bult

Laura Bult is a spring intern with Earth Eats and a senior at Indiana University majoring in International Studies, with minors in English Literature and Spanish.

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