SunChips Now Come in Veggie Bags

Photo by Jeremy Brooks, Flickr Creative Commons

SunChips® just made environmentalists and recyclers a whole lot happier. Starting next month, on Earth Day, its 10-ounce bags of the ridge-filled, rectangular snacks will be made from vegetables. No more chucking that metallic-looking, petroleum-based package in the trash. Instead, just toss it in the compost heap with your food scraps. (Click here for tips on composting at home, from the Jan-Feb issue of Audubon.)  

In a recent Audubon web exclusive about zero waste, we talked to some self-described “obsessive” recyclers, including 71-year-old Arthur Boone, who sorts his garbage into trash, paper, plastic, aluminum foil, metal, reusables, plastic bags, rigid plastic, and Styrofoam. The one thing he hadn’t figured out how to recycle: Mylar bags (and other similar packaging made from petroleum).
If the new SunChips bags work well, perhaps they can become a model for other companies?
Frito-Lay, the maker of SunChips, acknowledges that using petroleum byproducts to make its chip bags costs a lot less and is much easier than the more eco-friendly alternatives. So why the green leap? The company says it “dreams of a world with less waste.” Sounds simple enough.
The snack-maker spent four years researching and testing new materials, eventually deciding on PLA, a material made of polylactic acid. According to the SunChips web site: “PLA is made from lactic acid. Lactic acid is made from dextrose by fermentation. Dextrose is made from starch and starch is made from carbon dioxide and water. Because it’s made with plants that grow annually instead of petroleum (which takes millions of years to form) the impact on greenhouse gases is much lower.”
Apparently, the bags—which are purportedly much noisier than the old bags—will break down into gardener’s gold in three to four months. And the company’s plant in Modesto, CA, uses solar energy to produce 145,000 bags of SunChips daily. Of course, these eco-improvements don’t make the chips any healthier for you (though they supposedly have 30% less fat than regular potato chips) and it could be a simple case of Frito-Lay jumping on the green bandwagon. But even if that is the case, at least we’ll now be able to compost the bags. So snack away.  
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