If anybody missed it, a few days before Earth Day last month, Pepsico FritoLay gave an interesting glimpse into its new packaging for its SunChips brand in a splash of TV ads. Spot: An empty SunChips bag slowly deteriorates on the ground before the viewer's eyes. Upshot: The biodegradable bag is imminent.

SunChips will be packaging its healthier-for-you snacks in organic, increasingly compostable bags over the course of the year. The company is slowly rolling out its new packaging and has set a target date: a fully biodegradable bag to coincide with Earth Day 2010. A recent MediaPost article, "SunChips Rolling Out Compostable Package," had the skinny on the story.
Print, TV and Internet ads are running now and coincide with the statement found on SunChips current packaging: "Renewable materials make up 33% of this bag". Ads in People magazine and point of sale materials in grocery stores will contain swatches of the new biodegradable packaging material, made of corn-based polylactic acid (PLA), along with information on how to compost it.
By Earth Day 2010, SunChips bags will completely biodegrade in about 14 weeks. . .if placed in a true compost bin. . .giving rise to some controversy, as might be expected. Still, this isn't your old snack bag that lives for an eternity in landfills. Given the sheer number of snack foods consumed around the globe, I think this is a logical category for compostable packaging consideration.
For FritoLay, the challenge is to be able to source enough of the biodegradable material to package all of its snack lines. That will take time and considerable investments in new technology. Due to the breadth of FritoLay's snack lines, it is imperative to achieve economies of scale if this is going to work.
For now, SunChips is the logical place to start, given limited supplies of biodegradable PLA, at present and the brand's core assets. SunChips' constituents correlate healthier eating with a healthier planet. Thomas Oh, director of the SunChips brand is quoted in the article: "From an organizational standpoint, SunChips is the lead brand for communications around sustainability initiatives." Exactly.
More and more CPG companies are getting involved with sustainable packaging initiatives. It makes sense if–as this article points out–enough biodegradable or recyclable materials can be sourced and if it can be developed in a cost effective manner. There's much to be considered here; not all of it is visible to the eye. Saving on raw, virgin materials is important. Using renewable resources or reusing current materials rather than adding to the waste stream does make sense.
But saving energy does, too. And if it takes too much energy to achieve some of these new packaging ideas, it's far too costly in more ways than one. And let's face it: the costs do get passed on to consumers and there is just so much people will pay for products, green or not. But bit by bit, idea by idea, aided by new pioneering technologies, packaging is going in the right direction.
As a consumer, are you willing to spend a bit more when buying snacks as well as other foods/beverages in compostable packaging?
If so, would you consider purchasing and using a small composter?
Do you think recyclable packaging or compostable packaging makes more sense in the future? Why?
I'd love to hear from you.

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Ted Mininni is president and creative director of Design Force, a leading brand-design consultancy.

LinkedIn: Ted Mininni