SunChips and the compostable chip bag

Last year SunChips® introduced a compostable chip bag. It was noisy and created quite a bit of controversy. They pulled the bag from the market in October except for one flavor. Personally I wish they would have kept it on the market as they continued to try to improve it. For an interesting variety of views--both consistent with and in contrast to mine--read the comments to this Environmental Leader story from last October.

I bought at least a dozen of the bags from last spring through the fall and attempted to compost them in my backyard compost bin.  I don't really have much of an issue with the crinkly noise it makes, but I was disappointed in its compostability.  Here's the Frito-Lay website that discusses the bag, including the video of their ad for when they introduced it. Watching the video was inspiring, and I happily placed my bags in my compost bin.

Many weeks later, they were still there, pretty much the way they were when I started, except dirtier.  The food and yard scraps I put in were all composting as usual, but not the bags.  I separated the bags and took a picture.  In the photo (click to enlarge), they look like they are composting a little, but actually I tore them apart by hand, and some of these bags had been in the bin for five months.

Here's my disclaimer, however: My compost bin does not heat up much if at all.  Even though I've been composting for more than 10 years, I've never had much success getting my bin to heat up.  It's not really a big problem, though, because everything eventually composts anyway--it just takes longer. 

Well, in the case of these bags, longer seemed like pretty much forever.  The SunChips web site says that they will break down in 14 weeks if you can maintain a temperature of 130 degrees or more.  Oh, well; good luck with that.

In the fall instead of putting my leaves out on the street for pickup, I chop them up with my lawnmower and put them in my compost bin.  Here are two photos of the process.  In the closeup photo you can see the colored flecks of the bags.  I threw them in with my leaves, figuring if I chopped them up small, they might compost faster.  I won't really know until spring, though, because my compost is partially frozen and doesn't do much decomposing through the winter.

So I like the idea of the compostable bag, but I think the vast majority of people who actually try to compost them are unlikely to have much luck.  I'm willing to go the extra mile in my efforts, but I'm guessing that the vast majority are not.

I'd love it if my community allowed us to put the compostable bags in with our leaves.  That would be a good option for a lot of people.  However, the county doesn't really compost the leaves, it just mulches them.  So the bags would still probably be visible, although shredded, in the mulch.

I'll post a follow up in the summer.

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