SunChips: The Crinkle Heard Round The World

Something astounding happened recently. A crumpling bag caused a company to crumple up years of effort and commitment to a green packaging innovation and toss it in the bin.

Yes, the much touted fully compostable bag for SunChips was released this year, with high expectations and many other companies paying close attention. And what happened? People complained about, of all things, that the packaging was, wait for it…Noisy.

Noisy!? Yes, the noise that consumers made about it was loud enough that SunChips are transitioning back to conventional packaging for all but one size, one flavor of SunChips in America. Canada? Standing strong, with a sense of humor.

What does this say about the state of green products? The American consumer?

To me, it says we’d better walk the green talk that’s been so prevalent in recent years. People get upset and point fingers at BP and the like, but maybe its time they start pointing at themselves in the mirror.

Being so focused on your own needs and bubble of comfort that a noisier bag is not acceptable, is just inexcusable. Choosing to embrace old style packaging that for the most part, save being collected and upcycled by TerraCycle and other companies, is going to add to trash on the street, in our landfills, in the ocean is atrocious.

Given that SunChips is a mainstream brand, it may be simple ignorance among consumers that when you throw something away, it doesn’t go away. But given Sunships extensive advertising, for at least a year previous to the launch of their new packaging, I’m not inclined to believe that.

Yes, as product developers we should always keep customer experience front and center, as people beyond the committed green will be more easily swayed by other needs closer to home. The green aspects should underlie it all, but not be the lead character in the play, when it comes to consumer products and services.

There is definitely a lesson for companies here, but I don’t believe it’s for companies to err so far on the side of caution that real, beneficial progress gets swept away.

And yet, for people to go beyond simply being a bit displeased and get in a full on uproar over noisy packaging, to me, is a sign that it’s high time we as consumers realign our priorities.

Readers: What do you think needs to be done here? Better education of people of the greater context? Or a good swift verbal kick in the ass to get it, or get over it?

Tom Szaky is the Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc. a company that makes eco-revolutionary products entirely from garbage! TerraCycle, since its humble beginnings in a Princeton University dorm room, is committed to being a triple bottom line company. Tom at the ancient age of 19 learned about composting with worms. The concept of using tiny little worms to turn food waste into a powerful, organic fertilizer fascinated Tom, who was appalled by the amount of food discarded by his campus's cafeteria. Tom started TerraCycle with no investors from a friend's garage by building a Worm Gin where he could house millions of worms in a small area. He all but bankrupted himself and maxed out all his credit cards to build the machine. With the help of friends he would shovel pounds of rotten, maggot-infested food from the Princeton cafeterias. Without any money left over, Tom could not afford to buy bottles to package his fertilizer. That's when the sustainability gods smiled on Tom, who was up one night wandering the streets Princeton in search of an answer to his packaging dilemma. It just happened to be recycling night and Tom realized that millions of homes were putting billions of free bottles out on the curb once a week! That serendipitous moment set everything to follow into motion. Slowly he began to finance his infantile start up by winning business plan contests. Finally he hit the pay dirt! He won the million dollar grand prize at the Carrot Capital Business plan contest. However, the financiers of the contest wanted to move TerraCycle away from used bottles and away from it's environmental focus. Despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, Tom turned down the money. In the six years since then TerraCycle has grown to a multi-million dollar company that doubles in size every year. Still we are committed to our triple bottom line beginnings. Still making our products from other's people waste. Still based in an Urban Enterprise Zone in Trenton, NJ. Still a second chance employer. Find out how and why, here at

2 responses

  1. Pioneers often get the arrows in the back like SunChips in this case. I think they should reintroduce the bag and keep working on improvements until everyone forgets this issue. Someone asked Henry Ford if he got opinions from people before he built the Model T. “No, the people would have just asked for faster horses!”

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