Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Frito Lay *compostable* bag a disaster - let's learn from it

Last January the fast-food giant Frito Lay (owned by Pepsico) introduced what it claimed was a compostable chip bag. This would have been good news. It makes great sense to package food in compostable wrappings. But things went terribly wrong.

First of all, the bags aren't actually compostable. The award-winning Durham ON composting program expressly prohibits "compostable chip bags" from its green composting bins.

Second, the bags aren't recyclable either. What little biodegradable property they do have would foul up the works if they ended up in a recycled product. So that will cause problems in the Canada-wide "harmonized" recycling program for packaging proposed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment. The CCME plan expressly lumps all packaging together in one regulatory bag. How will we separate out the recyclable wheat from the compostable chaff in this new program?

And what about the environmental footprint of compostable plastic, compared for instance to alternatives such as compostable paper? Frito Lay claims the bags are made with "renewable, plant-based materials" -- but they provide no information about the energy and other environmental costs of converting the molecules in those materials into plastic.

But these concerns are not why Frito Lay is pulling the bags off the market.

The real problem with the bags, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal, is that consumers complained that they were too noisy! The WSJ reports that consumers have "lodged fierce complaints on social-networking sites." Worse: sales of the chips are down.

What does this tell us about how far we have strayed from common sense, as we move inexorably towards Peak Oil's day of reckoning?