New SunChips Bag: 90% Plant-based, 100% Compostable

Frito Lay Canada (a division of PepsiCo) will roll out the world’s first 100% compostable chip bag in Canadian retail outlets beginning in March.

The new SunChips packaging will be made from more than 90% renewable, plant-based materials, and as a result, the bag will completely break down into compost in a hot, active compost pile in approximately 14 weeks.

“In order to continue to reduce our environmental impact as a company, finding sustainable packaging solutions was a must,” says Marc Guay, President, Frito Lay Canada, in a press release. “We know that environmentally-friendly packaging is a priority for Canadians. Using plant-based renewable materials to make packaging that will interact differently with the environment, represents the next small step in Frito Lay Canada’s environmental sustainability journey.”

The SunChips 100% compostable chip bag will start appearing on shelves in Canada this March in the 225g & 425g size bags. The remaining SunChips packages will transition into the compostable packaging in August 2010.

Here in the U.S., a prototype SunChips bag (made from one-third plant-based materials) is widely available. Frito Lay is planning to launch its new 90% plant-based, 100% compostable bag in the U.S. to coincide with Earth Day 2010.

Bag marketed as “the new sound of green”

The renewable material used to produce the SunChips 100% compostable bag is made from a plant-based material called polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is a versatile and compostable polymer made from starch.

After four years of research and testing, Frito-Lay North America’s Research and Development team identified PLA as the key material that meets the company’s performance expectations. PLA ensures the product in the bag maintains the quality and freshness consumers expect, the company says.

The chips will taste the same. However,when handled, the compostable packaging sounds different than traditional bags. That’s because the plant-based materials are not as pliable at room temperature. Frito Lay Canada is cleverly marketing this novel trait as “the new sound of green.” (You can listen to the sound here.)

Certified through the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)

The SunChips’ compostable packaging has been certified through the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), the only internationally recognized labeling program. Therefore,  it presents the opportunity for incorporation into waste management programs destined for composting, provided the local infrastructure is both available and capable of including this packaging material within their system. In the months ahead, SunChips will be working with local composting initiatives to enable the new packaging to be included in green bin programs as much as possible, Frito Lay says.

“Having designed packaging with the environment in mind, SunChips’ certified compostable packaging will help raise awareness of the environmental importance of composting,” said Susan Antler, Executive Director of the Compost Council of Canada. “We hope the introduction of initiatives such as the compostable SunChips bag will encourage and make it easier for Canadians to participate in composting such that over time, we will see an increase in the number of Canadian households that compost. This will hopefully also spur the industry to continue to develop and enhance the technology needed to create packaging from renewable resources such that it can be easily incorporated into waste management systems.”

Frito Lay makes it clear on its website that the most effective way for the bag to decompose is in a hot, active composting bin. Of course, under different environmental conditions, the packaging will behave differently. For instance, if left on the ground, the packaging will break down eventually, but not as efficiently as it would in a compost bin.

Here’s a 45 second video from SunChips that depicts the optimal 14-week decomposition process:

Additional green initiatives at Frito Lay Canada

In addition to the SunChips 100% compostable chip bag, Frito Lay Canada has been working to reduce the company’s environmental impact for more than a decade. For example, the company has:

  • Reduced its manufacturing fuel consumption by more than 20% since 1999 per kilogram of snacks produced.
  • Reduced its water consumption by 30% since 1999, saving 5.4 billion liters of water through changes in the manufacturing plants.
  • Diverted more than 92% of manufacturing waste from landfills into re-use streams in 2009.
  • Reused approximately 30 million shipping cartons annually and 200 million since 1999, which is equivalent to more than 300,000 trees saved annually and more than 2 million trees saved since 1999.

As a corporate content specialist and a ghostwriter for C-level executives, Kathryn's work appears at Forbes, Industry Week and other leading trade publications and websites. She focuses on topics related to science, business sustainability, supply chain risk management and marketing. Find out more about Kathryn at . You can follow Kathryn on Twitter: @CorpWriter4Hire.

27 responses

  1. Frito Lay had other (better) options than PLA. The “starch” utilized in the production of PLA is GENETICALLY MODIFIED CORN. Efficient breakdown of PLA requires and industrial composter and requires extremely high heat. Other alternatives are actually biodegradable and do not use GMO's of any kind. Sun Chips is a “Great Spin” but unfortunately is not the healthy product or packaging that it appears to be.

    1. Look. Can you not at least acknowledge that this is a great step in the right direction? Can you not possibly agree that this is much better than non-biodegradable plastics that never disappear? This is the problem with the (sometimes) extremist environmental corner: there is absolutely no compromise at anytime. Yes. You are correct by saying what you say. But to make it into just a “great spin” is complicit to the very kind of rhetoric that is counterproductive to any green progress.

      And why should they not get some “great spin” when they make an effort to do something intelligent? This is the kind of effort for which companies should be rewarded with profit. And to the extent that companies base their business strategy around ideas that are green, then that is to the extent that they should be “rewarded” with more profit. It's better than other companies who utilize slick PR strategies that garner “great spin” even when they do nothing for delicate habitats everywhere.

      I applaud Sun Chips for doing the due-diligence (which costs a lot of money and takes lots of energy) concerning a bag that is much better for the earth and her habitats. May others follow. And yes, per the suggestions of Ruth and others, may the ideas improve more and more over time.

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  3. Frito Lay makes Doritos, Tostitos and Lay's potato chips… so why move to compostable packaging just for Sun Chips? Cost, I'm guessing. But it would be good to know for sure. Certainly, improving packaging for Doritos would have a much bigger impact, for example.

    1. My understanding is that Frito Lay would like to use this type of compostable packaging across its entire line. However, the company needs to work with the supplier to scale up the bag manufacturing.

    2. my theory is because they know health freaks are often environmental freaks too. therefore developing loyalty on another level and giving people more of a reason to buy the sunchips over another brand they may also like. not that the product is healthy in the first place. but it sure fools a lot of people. and it tastes good.

    1. This is a GREAT step forward in packaging. However, it does appear the new bag still contains a metalized layer, so if this is the case, a key question is: what happens to the metal(s) released during composting, and what metal is present (aluminium)? For example, high levels of aluminium aren't desirable in one's compost!

      1. We estimate the weight percent Aluminum in our package to be 0.38%. It is composed of pure aluminum when it is applied to the surface of the PLA film. However, the aluminum quickly oxidizes to form Aluminum Oxide (Al2O3) one of the most common materials found on earth. Aluminum compounds make up about 8.1% by weight of the Earth's solid surface.

        So in a compost environment, if we put in 5% by weight of our SunChips packaging (which is a lot of bags) the increase in aluminum oxide content would be 0.019%. So even at an extremely high loading of our packaging in the compost the aluminum change would be 8.100% to 8.119% – hard to even measure based on the variation from soil sample to soil sample. Does that help answer your question?

        1. Curious that the Sun Chips website doesn't mention a peep about Aluminum being part of the packaging? Great video, slick web design, yet a dearth of actual information.

          Clearly, you're hoping that going “Green” will generate Greenback$.

          BTW, I'd rather hear from an independant certified chemist about the environmental impact of aluminum going into my compost, rather than from a corporate shill for Frito-Lay. Conflict of interest, and all that.

    2. Heyyyyyy sunchips I think you should make party mix sunchips where you put all the flavors in 1 bag!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  5. I'm a chemist. My other Co-worker is also a chemist. She composts and gardens. She just bought the new Sunchips to conduct her own experiment. We discussed the construction of the Mylar wrapper, I think that the Frito Lay rep and their claims about % levels of Aluminum are probably correct.

  6. Wow! This is the most amazing thing I've heard in um, years, since the compostable plasticware hit a conference table (where it probably won't be composted). would love to see the day when the trash options in business settings include compost, since so much food waste could be.

  7. my theory is because they know health freaks are often environmental freaks too. therefore developing loyalty on another level and giving people more of a reason to buy the sunchips over another brand they may also like. not that the product is healthy in the first place. but it sure fools a lot of people. and it tastes good.

  8. I think sunchips should make a party mix bag with all the sun chip flavors in one bag! I'm tryin to get in touch with the sun chips company but I can't. So………..i was wonderin if one of you guys can get in touch with them for me and mention my idea. PLZ!!!!!!!

  9. Have not one of you people posting comments here handled one of these new bags? Not one comment about the NOISE POLUTION they cause. Living next to an airport runway wouldn't be as noisy as being around someone handling one of these wonderful chip bags. Seriously.

  10. I have a problem with the fact that they are encouraging us to put this aluminum in our compost pile, which naturally will wind up in our garden and probably in our food! I don’t know if vegetable plants absorb aluminum or not, but the whole idea seems suspicious to me. I think it’d be fine if they just promoted it as a biodegradable bag that decomposes in a landfill, but the fact that they encourage us to put it in our compost bins is disturbing!!! I guess we're not getting enough aluminum and barium and other garbage in our soil from the chemtrails, so now they came up with this!

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