Turns out, America likes its chip bags to be seen and not heard

Frito-Lay will be retiring the compostable Sun Chips bag, which became famous less for its Earth-friendliness than for the 95-decibel crunching sounds it made whenever it was touched. Created from a polymer material based on corn starch, the bags were cursed with a high glass transition temperature. Basically, all polymers have a rubbery state and a stiff state, and each type of polymer switches from floppy to crunchy at a different temperature. For the Sun Chips bags, that was, unfortunately, around normal room temp—so what was supposed to be flexible was constantly turning brittle. And loud. The weird thing: This flaw isn't inherent to compostable chip bags. Boulder Canyon potato chips makes their version from a wood pulp polymer, which seems to avoid the problem. (Via Erin Biba)

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  1. This probably also plays into the “Eco-Branding Doesn’t Always Sell” idea. Do it right, people will be happy, but Sun Chips are still factory-produced corn, regardless of how many chirpy women pose eating one in a field of flowers on your commercials.

  2. Those bags really are annoying as hell. I was on a road trip with my wife. I kept trying to sneak a handful of chips and the the bag would narc me out every time!

  3. While I applaud Frito-Lay’s intent, those bags are a nightmare. First time I put them through my register, I thought I was going to go deaf! And, until they stuck the explanation on the bag, I genuinely thought they’d done it as a measure to prevent people taking them into movie theatres…

  4. I’ve had one of those bags in my quite-active composter for the better part of a year, and I haven’t seen any noticeable decomposition. Does anyone know how long these things are supposed to take?

    My big beef with these products is: what proportion of these will ever actually be thrown away in some environment where they can decompose? How many of them are actually being put into composters and yard-waste bags?

    If they aren’t being put somewhere where they can actively decompose then they’re just being put into an anaerobic landfill somewhere, and then they are just as bad as regular packages, because they will never decompose. Worse, maybe, because environmentally-conscious people may buy them more freely, believing that they are somehow greener.

  5. Those bags are soo loud I have to wonder if it affected their sales. We bought them once and I was up early packing lunches for my kids and woke the whole house up trying to open it. My wife comes out asking “What the F’ are you doing?”
    Last time we bought that bag.

  6. These bags were terrible. So obnoxiously loud that it actually made Sun Chips not worth the trouble.

    Sun Chips are a pretty putrid product to begin with; I say if you’re going to eat junk food at least have the spine to eat real junk food. Healthy chips? No thanks. Diet soda? Unless I’m diabetic, NO THANKS!!! In fact they should get rid of Skim Milk or be forced to rename it Watermilk, because its more water than milk. ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’ is another product that should die.

    People need to realize that not every food needs a ‘healthy’, tasteless version.

    We wouldn’t need products like these if we had self-control and knew to take things in moderation.

  7. While I did put the bags in the compost bin I stopped buying the damn chips. (Probably the better decision.) It was simply embarrassing to handle the bags in public. For a while I had thought it was hand-me-down greenwashing, the extra noise was a feature for consumers so that everyone in the store would know you’re buying a compostable bag.

  8. Here’s an idea. Put this chips in a giant hopper and I’ll bring in my own bag and fill it up, just like with oats and carob chips at the stinky old co-op. Naw, nevermind, I just won’t eat stupid potato chips.

  9. The bags don’t really compost very well either. I started a compost pile in March, and two of these bags were among the first things I put in. I still find them when I turn the compost.

  10. I run a fairly hot compost pile (likely hotter than ideal temp) and while these seem to compost within about a month, they sure bring mold on quick.

  11. Hooray! I like the taste of Sun Chips, but I haven’t eaten any since that insanely loud bag rolled out. Seriously, you can’t even hear a TV if someone is touching that bag.

    Why in the world can’t the bag be made out of, oh, some sort of non-bizarre paper, so you could just recycle it with other paper goods? Failing that, maybe a cardboard box, like Cracker Jacks (which, of course, now have a foil liner). Sheesh.

  12. As an explanation for the curious:

    Frito-Lay does their packaging research in Plano, Texas. (A suburb of Dallas) A large part of the R&D of their new packaging is done in weather that is far in excess of 80 Fahrenheit, while simulating the storage of the bags in distributor warehouses, trucks, store backrooms, etcetera – places that aren’t air-conditioned. They also likely test the compostability of the bags by leaving them in direct Texas sunlight and heat during the height of summer and eventually putting them in a compost heap.

    They do, of course, run focus groups about their packaging choices, but as with any large corporation, it’s entirely possible that a directive handed down from on-high served to over-ride any reality-leaning data. Someone probably went to sleep one night thinking “It’s practically an audible advertisement for how crisp and fresh our chips are!”.

  13. Can’t you compost paper? I seem to remember composting newspaper. I’d think there would be some sort of paper bag that would work fine for chips. Maybe even a recycled paper one.

  14. I don’t see a loud bag as necessarily being a huge problem. I usually pour myself a serving of chips in a bowl and avoid the bag entirely.

  15. I’ve never heard one of these bags and they don’t sell them where I live. After reading all this, I’m going to go nuts if I can’t experience it for myself.

  16. I have a hearing problem and loud noises are painful to me. I had to forbid the hubby from buying Sun Chips after this bag came out. Couldn’t even get it to the check out without covering my ears.

    95 decibels is ridiculous. By comparison, a lion’s roar is 110 and Maria Sharapova grunting on court is 101. (Which leads me to conclude that if a lion was playing tennis against Sharapova and someone in the audience was eating Sun Chips, there would be chaos.)

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