Frito-Lay has been working for a year now on developing and testing a biodegradable bag that will completely break down in an ordinary compost pile. The corn-based polymer chip bags are set to hit store shelves this week and can be expected to biodegrade in a backyard compost pile within 14 weeks. Right now, Frito-Lay is only rolling out the new bags under their Sun Chip brand, so don’t try throwing your Doritos bag into your compost bin, you’ll only have to fish it out later.
The new chip bag material is made from PLA (polylactic acid), a corn-based polymer made by NatureWorks, who claims the material is the “world’s first and only performance plastic made from 100% annually renewable resources.” The Biodegradable Products Institute has also certified that the bag meets its biodegradable standards for sustainable packaging, and starting in May, the B.P.I logo will be included on the package.
Frito-Lay has determined through testing that under typical backyard composting conditions, the bag will decompose at the same rate as the rest of the compost — around 12-16 weeks. If the bag makes it to a commercial composter, it will take about the same time to decompose.
The big question, however, is whether the new bags will actually end up in the compost heap. As Kate Galbraith of the NY Times says, “Whether many of the bags will actually make it into the compost heap, of course, seems doubtful.
Few Americans compost in their backyards, and curbside pickup is typically limited to Western metropolises like the Bay Area and Seattle.” It’s likely that most of these bags will still end up in the landfill, and according to Frito-Lay’s own testing, the new bag will not decompose under the anaerobic conditions of a typical landfill.
Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and those conscious composters who eat Sun Chips can merrily toss the chip bag into their compost pile.