Recently I was invited to a media conference with Frito-Lay Brands to discuss their new campaign for SunChips and their latest innovations in sustainable packaging.
I was intrigued by the invitation which referenced a new “100% Compostable” bag for their SunChips line of snacks. During the presentation they asked if everyone knew the difference between biodegradable and compostable, of course since only the “green media” was invited, no one needed an explanation. In a nutshell, biodegradable means that the material can be broken down by micro-organisms into matter that may contain toxins and may or may not be able to support plant life. There is no time limit on this process. Compostable means that the materials can be broken down by micro-organisms into matter that is free of toxins and can support plant life. It is expected that compostable materials will breakdown in a reasonable amount of time. So, everything that is compostable is biodegradable but not vice-versa.
In fact, SunChips intends to package their snacks in 100% compostable bags. The material is in the final stages of testing and they expect to role out the new packaging early 2010. This is certainly a noble cause but I could not help to question “What good is a compostable bag in a landfill?” I was not trying to be a Debbie Downer but the fact is, a very small percentage of our population composts and Frito Lay produces 145,000 bags of SunChips every day. The answer, I am pleased to say, is that they are developing a nationwide campaign to raise awareness and promote the value of composting. They are currently lining up organizations to partner with and design the message and accompanying programs. As some of you may know, there are 2 types of composts; backyard composts for grass, leaves and other plants materials, and kitchen composts for vegetables, breads, pasta, egg shells and coffee (no meats, bones, oils or butter). Backyard composts are more common and these are just fine for the new SunChips bags. According to them, in a hot compost, their bags completely degrade in just 14 weeks.
By the way, Frito-Lay is not new to the sustainability game, their plant in Modesto,CA has a solar field that generates enough energy to produce all 145,000 bags of SunChips for them each day. And no, they are not “off-the-grid”, they make other snacks there as well but nonetheless it is quite an achievement.
Frito-Lay is part of the Pepsico group of companies. Pepsico is well known for their environmental responsibility and were the first company that we at Got2BeGreen profiled when we launched our GreenProps section (see article here).
In a separate article I will be talking about a new documentary featuring Leo DiCaprio about the “green rebuilding” of Greensburg, KS, a town devastated by a tornado. The SunChips brand donated $1,000,000 to the cause. Also, SunChips and Nation Geographic have launched a new contest at www.greeneffect.com where they will be awarding $100,000 in grants to people who submit the best ideas for helping their local communities go green. More to follow.