No, it’s not another wind energy project. And no, I’m not the first to make that connection. This time, it’s the compostable plant-based plastic bag debuted – and now pulled – by SunChips. Frito-Lay announced earlier this week that it will switch all but original flavor SunChips back to the old packaging due to complaints about how noisy the eco-friendly bags are.
This story has been making the online rounds this week. Many have disparaged complaints about the noisy bags, calling the situation laughable. Even a waste industry blog commented that putting “snack time serenity” above environmental concerns “sets the bar awfully low.” Others say it’s one more example of failed green engineering, while still others chalk the retraction up to hyper-competitive markets.
Being the science geek I am, I decided I needed some more data before weighing in on the issue. (I’m not a big chip eater, so I’ve been blissfully unaware of this issue.) I thought about buying a bag to hear for myself, then thought better of it. Why make more (compostable?) trash when YouTube is full of crinkling SunChips bags?
Yep. That’s loud. According to one source, about 95 decibels loud. Think subway. Or coffee grinder. But is it TOO loud? That’s a subjective question that can only be answered when you consider what’s at stake.
Many experts rank plastic pollution one of the top three threats facing the ocean. Although it’s hard to pin down the exact number, the majority – maybe as much as 85% – of marine debris (trash floating around in the ocean) is plastic. Plastic bags can suffocate or choke sea turtles, birds, and other wildlife. Smaller pieces can kill by more insidious means – filling animals’ stomachs with non-food until they starve to death. There’s even the possibility (although certainly not proven) that plastic debris could be leaking toxic chemicals into the animals who eat it.
There are plenty of questions surrounding the actual compostability of Frito-Lay’s bags (and all bioplastics, for that matter … an issue I’ve touched on before). Those are really moot now. Either way, Frito-Lay deserves kudos for attempting to tackle the pressing problem of plastic pollution. Hopefully, the next generation of eco-friendly packaging will fare better.