The big story this year in sustainable packaging is about Frito Lay's ® Sun Chips 100% compostable bag (and I mean 100% - compared to what? 20% compostable?). The irony is that the more voluminous posts in the blogosphere and online videography are about how noisy they are versus its sustainability. Perhaps they will be best home composted while a large tractor is being run in the back yard.

Food packaging is one of the most vexing design problems a food company faces given the complexity of food packaging regulations, packaging influences on food quality and labeling. Kudos to the company for the enormous investment it made as well as its educational outreach efforts with Earth911 and the Composting Council. I can't take issue with this very promising development but I am more concerned about these tidbits:

  • There are only 138 commercial compost facilities in the US, and at least five states with nada;
  • The jury's still out on whether it will really compost in backyard conditions -- independent tests need to be conducted;
  • How do you get zillions of zesty chip-consuming folks to automatically stop tossing as garbage a product that is innately connected with the garbage can? --
  • And the complete lack of visible, understandable, accessible and clearly marked composting bins as we carry our chip bags with us into schools, corporate meetings, parks and all the other places where we crunch away.

Always thinking about homo sapiens behavior, I found some research (Agricultural and Resource Economics Review 2002) that ties home composting behavior to a range of issues Frito Lay, Earth 911 and the Composting Council will definitely have to address: altruistic behavior, personal inconvenience (and you know, we are the penultimate convenience culture), household storage capabilities, economic incentives (Hello? Is pay-as-you-throw home?), and social influence (I learned from our friend Rick Kool that you need to convince people that everyone is doing it -- whatever the sustainable it is).

So, if you're still unconvinced about composting your Sun Chips bag, check out more artistic and economically stimulating options: Buy Lou'sUpcycle products on Etsy ® or work with your friends to collect a bunch-o-consumer products aggregated by type and send them to Terracycle, then turn around and buy your friends energy bar pocketbooks to speed our promised economic recovery.

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