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Are SunChips Bags Really Biodegradable? SunChips Facebook Discussions Raise the Question

Last Saturday, I posted about SunChips’ new, quieter biodegradable bag. As I was poking around, looking to see what other people were saying about it, I stumbled upon the discussions pages on SunChips’ Facebook page. One of them caught my eye — “Are you composting SunChips bags?”

SunChips bags are promoted as being biodegradable in a “hot, active compost pile.” One SunChips fan wanted to know — had anyone tried to actually compost these bags?

As IE readers know, I started my own experiment with the original bags last year. Other than getting dirtier, there was no decomposition in my not-so-hot, not-so-active backyard compost pile. But I discovered from this discussion, other people were trying it, too, from serious composters to teachers trying experiments with their student classes.  Apparently, they had no more success than I had. This discussion went back over a year, so these people had been at it awhile.

In fact, one poster wrote:

These bags are really NOT biodegradable. In fact, we have had the chip bags in our compost for more than 6 months and have not seen ANY changes in mass, degradation, decomposition…ANYTHING. I have pictures of the bags after I’ve fished them out of the compost bin; which we turn daily, add water and soil to regularly, and even add manure to quite often…NO change whatsoever.

I read on. Here’s what the discussion revealed:

  • In order for the bags to compost properly, you need more than a “hot, active compost pile” and 14 weeks of time. In the buried detail, SunChips reveals that you also need the compost pile to reach 130 degrees and a compost bin of 21 cubic feet.
  • This requires a composting operation far larger than the average home composter will ever have. Most home composting units hold no more than 10 cubic feet and never get that hot. So the conditions are those that few can meet.
  • The students of the teacher who tried the composting experiment in class learned a valuable lesson. Don’t litter!

In the end, though, there was one comment that stood out to me. Even if the SunChips bags won’t degrade in 99% of home compost piles until the children graduate from college, there was this:

It still beats the pants off of plastic in terms of degradation half-life. Polypropylene, Polyethylene, etc simply would not EVER biodegrade. Think about the millions of tons of plastic garbage floating in the ocean that will NEVER degrade…even if they took 10-20 years to degrade that would be awesome.

Amen to that.

Written by Heidi Tolliver-Walker

Heidi Tolliver-Walker has been a commercial and digital printing industry analyst, feature writer, columnist, editor, and author for nearly 20 years. She is known for her meticulous research and no-nonsense perspective. In addition to having written thousands of industry articles for top industry publications, she and Richard Romano have been the face of the well-respected industry research firm The Industry Measure (TrendWatch Graphic Arts) for many years. In her more than 13-year tenure with the firm, she has written countless reports on digital printing, 1:1 (personalized) printing, Web-to-print, personalized URLs, and other hot industry applications. She is also a long-time contributing editor and columnist for Printing News, for which she writes two monthly columns, including "Personal Effects," which features monthly analysis of 1:1 (personalized) printing case studies. She is also the author of three titles for the National Association of Printing Leadership: Designer's Printing Companion, Ink & Color: A Printer's Guide, and Diversifying Via Value-Added Services. As a small, niche publisher (Strong Tower Publishing), she is active in utilizing these technologies in her own business, as well.

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