Were 'Biodegradable' Sun Chips Bags Not So Biodegradable?

Before you shed a green, biodegradable tear over news that Sun Chips has scrapped its environmentally friendly but unwieldy packaging, consider the possibility that perhaps the bags didn’t dissolve into nothing as easily as advertised.

Claire sent us her blog post about how she and her husband tried and failed to sacrifice a Sun Chips bag to their compost pile.

A telling excerpt:

Although the company claimed that the bag would break down in fourteen weeks in a hot, active compost pile, it didn’t break down in ours. A good sixteen weeks after we composed the bag, I pulled it out and, well, see for yourself how much of it degraded. (The black stuff is decayed material, not ordinary garden dirt.)

Do any of you composters have any evidence to back up or refute Claire’s findings?

The Truth about the SunChips Bag [Zulkey]

Previously: Unbearably Noisy Biodegradable SunChips Bag Terminated


Edit Your Comment

  1. BenChatt says:

    Yeah, we had the same problem.

  2. Incident8 says:

    Same here.

  3. Yankees368 says:

    So not only did Sun Chips lose their consumer base (like me), but the reason for the switch didn’t even work? Double fail.

  4. Mom says:

    Never tried the SunChips bag, but…there’s lots of stuff out there that’s supposed to be biodegradable, but the amount of time it takes to biodegrade is longer than what we typically assume. Right now we have a compost bin full of un-decayed printer paper as proof. Everything else that we put in the bin at the same time has turned to dirt, but the shredded printer paper? It just turned into dirty shredded printer paper that we’re going to have to pick out and throw away.

    • dulcinea47 says:

      Shouldn’t put bleached white paper in the compost bin. I can’t recall the details, but the bleaching process does something to it.

    • trentblase says:

      “but the amount of time it takes to biodegrade is longer than what we typically assume”

      As long as it’s not, like, thousands of years, I’m good.

    • Kingeryck says:

      Newspaper also doesn’t biodegrade like you would expect. Some ‘modern anthropologists’ or something went digging in a landfill and found really old papers that you could still read. I don’t remember the details as to why that happens but I saw it on Discovery.

      • h1dekikun says:

        Landfills are specifically engineered to be an anaerobic and dry environment, complete with drainage systems for liquid. Dry and no oxygen pretty much anything that gets put in won’t rot, they’re the complete opposite of a compost pile.

    • Pinklette says:

      I’ve noticed I have to add extra (I mean massively extra) water when I add the shredded paper to our compost. Might as well just soak the paper before it goes in. Still my favorite way to dispose of sensitive materials though!

  5. dulcinea47 says:

    Most regular at-home compost piles don’t get hot enough to degrade the “biodegradable” plastic-like bags, silverware, etc. that’s around these days. I’d like to know what condition the company claimed was needed, and what temperature this person’s compost heap got to. I have a small compost bin outside my apartment, and vegetable matter & cardboard and whatnot rot just fine, but I know something like this wouldn’t.

    • snobum says:

      There’s a suggested compost recipe on their website. I don’t compost, so it doesn’t really mean anything to me….

    • d0x360 says:

      Agreed. Proper compost, the kind that really gets hot has to not only have normal food stuff and plant matter but it also needs high bacteria like the kind you get from manure. Also wet hay helps alot too. Anytime you have a compost pile its a good idea to buy a bail of hay and wet it then let it sit by itself for a few days damp then mix it in with the pile. Hay can get so hot that it bursts into flames if there is enough of it..and by enough i mean like 50+ bales so no worries.

  6. LinebackerU says:

    I still find it striking that SunChip’s “consumer base” was so offended by the louder bags that they stopped buying the product. After you bring it home, how many times do you actually touch/move that bag? 5, 6 times? Seems like a small price to pay to encourage companies to develop greener products.

    The above assumes, of course, that the bags were actually biodegradable and that people who bought them actually compost.

    • Silverhawk says:

      No kidding. I’m not one to buy green products for the sake of being green, but this seemed like a good idea at an acceptable trade off. Chip bags are noisy already, that’s why I pour out what I’m going to eat & roll the bag back up. I don’t keep opening/moving it repeatedly.

      I’m guessing that some of the folks complaining about it not composting also have these tiny, trendy compost tumblers or bins, and all they put in it is their kitchen waste. They need a real compost pile with some actual mass to it. I have a large, fenced compost pile in my backyard (see Paul James’ Gardening By The Yard) – It DOES get warm, and works well. Too bad I didn’t actually get to buy any Sun Chips in the new bags to try it out.

    • claytons says:

      Struck me as odd, too. They were loud, but regular bags are as well.

    • gargunkle says:

      Well, if you figure a bag has, say, 10 ounces in it, normally a serving size is one ounce, so you’re opening it 10 times and closing it nine. (Granted, most people probably eat more at once than the recommended serving size.)

    • shadowboxer524 says:

      I kept buying Sun Chips, because I think they taste great. But, the bags were loud. For me, it’s not just opening the bag that caused noise. It was every time I moved the bag or reached inside it for more Sun Chippy goodness. I wouldn’t eat them at night out of respect for my roommate.

    • mandy_Reeves says:

      it was so loud I got in trouble at my work at home call center job…we cannot have back ground noise, but like 2 rooms away, my husband rustled the sunchips bag and I got dinged on a Quality assurance review for back ground noise.

  7. Dover says:

    Mine looks exactly like this, too, dirty and in one piece. I just assumed my pile wasn’t hot enough to break it down.

  8. mexifelio says:

    Awe, I still

    • mexifelio says:

      hmm, i put a heart and apparently the chat box didn’t like that.

      Awe, I still “love” you Harvest Cheddar!!

  9. Runner says:

    Add heat. It’s a chemical reaction that happens. Most people’s compost bin’s slowly decompose stuff, generating very little heat.

    Throw a bunch of grass in there to make it heat up and they go just fine. Want to see what happens, hold it over a burner (not touching, but like a foot above it).

    Found that out the hard way when I tried using my Vacuum heat sealer to re-seal a bag…

  10. dulcinea47 says:

    Here: http://www.sunchips.com/resources/pdf/SunChips_BehindtheScenes.pdf
    A pdf discussing exactly the conditions needed to break the thing down. It basically says you need a compost pile of at least 21 cubic feet with the proper mix of “greens” (such as food scraps) and “browns” (such as dead leaves). My compost bin is, I dunno, six cubic feet? No chance.

    • KhaiJB says:

      in other words a fully maintained idea conditions compost heap you’d see for someone who’s very serious about their garden…… a rare breed these days…

  11. claytons says:

    20 weeks or 14, or 100, it will still be quicker thatn the alternative packaging which must be measured in years, and lots of them. I applaud there effort, and am a bit disgusted by the nature of complaints.

    Not that Sun Chips themselves are in any way environmentaly friendly.

  12. Mike says:

    We successfully composted a few of them. It took a few months, but they are gone now. We do live in Texas, so maybe heat it the key.

  13. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Judging by the other things still whole in the plastic tote in the pict, this “pile” doesn’t seem to be large enough to generate the heat needed to degrade the bag in the time that Sunchips claims. I’m betting if I dropped this same bag in my manure pit, which is hot/warm enough to allow grass to grow on top of it well into the winter, it would match Sunchips claim.

    • polizzi82 says:

      I hate every comment you have ever posted.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        Why thank you. I’m sorry that my opinion that the compost pile was not large enough offended you, but I stand by it. Compost piles require many things/conditions in order to properly do their jobs. IIRC, they should at least get to 140-180F in order to kill any foreign seeds and/or organisms. I wonder if this pile got anywhere near that temp…

    • MostlyHarmless says:

      Now now. How many times have I told you not to put thing in your mouth as a bet?

  14. Razor512 says:

    I believe that it may degrade one day but not in our life time. I have 1 of those bags in my yard because some idiot somehow though that it was a trash can, it has been in a corner for a really long time with no fading or signs of degrading. and I don’t really care enough to pick up the trash, I usually use the lawn mower for that since it picks up trash also with out me having to touch it (not sure what has been on the bag before it was thrown out.

  15. blinky says:

    It most likely will break down in a municipal composter – I’ve gotten other compostable packaging that says the same thing. I doubt your compost pile gets any hotter than mine, that is, a low simmer.

  16. JKulp42757 says:

    If customers stop buying your product, simply because the bag is too loud…I think that says more about your product than the bag.

  17. dg says:

    Gee.. something didn’t work as advertised by a manufacturer? who’da thunk it /sarcasm

  18. PsiCop says:

    Composting requires several things in a particular combination: heat, moisture, pressure (weight) and air. The required proportions are fairly exact, and too much or too little of any can prevent degradation. We have a mulcher but even in spite of doing our best to meet these requirements, we still find that some things just never break down. Managing compost is really tough. My bet is that folks are just not getting the right mix.

  19. maubs says:

    Can I throw Ingeo biopolymer into my backyard compost?

    Ingeo biopolymer should be composted in industrial compost facilities, which contain the right managed combination of temperature and moisture. Therefore, it is not recommended for use in typical backyard composting due to the lack of high temperature and inconsistent conditions.


  20. Mariushm says:

    Would it have been so hard to take some scissors and cut it in small cubes before you compost it?

    As it is, chances are it will take years to decompose, as some material is protected between layers of plastic foil

  21. lockdog says:

    I have thrown more than a few of these into our backyard pile with no problems. In fact, they are great for carrying a load of kitchen scraps from the house to the compost bin. They will barely break down until I add a bucket of chicken litter/manure (my wife’s newest “pet” project). That heats up the pile so quickly it’s just a matter of a few weeks and the bags are gone.

  22. MikeM_inMD says:

    We bought them because they were on sale and then noticed the biodegradable claim. So, four empty bags went into my bin in early summer. I was turning the pile this past weekend and the bags are mostly intact. However, my pile hasn’t been very hot this year. Maybe the turning and adding of grass clippings will heat it up, so I’ll check around Christmas.

  23. jaredwilliams says:

    their chips are delish who cares about their bag, take it out of the bag and put it in a bowl or something

  24. chaelyc says:

    I can’t speak for the Sun Chips bags, but most materials that claim to be compostable take much longer than quoted if your compost pile isn’t incredibly humid & moist. I’d give them a few extra weeks before crying foul on this one.