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Sun Chips Bag Trashed, But Future Still Bright For Green Packaging

If you've come across a bag of Sun Chips, you've very likely noticed just how loud it is. Annoyed by this? Then you're not alone. But with a different molecular makeup, the corn-based bag was very noisy and annoyed consumers so much that parent company Frito Lay trashed the bag after less than a year. But, it may only be a small step backwards in the push towards sustainable packaging. Tom Mildenhall of Charlotte is one of those who noticed just how different the Sun Chips bag is. "It is the loudest thing I've ever opened in my entire life," he says. The bag is so loud, he has to plan when he'll eat the chips so he doesn't wake up his baby boy. "Once he's either asleep during the day, or at night when he goes to sleep at 7:00, I'm not allowed to get the Sun Chip bag or eat Sun Chips," Mildenhall says. "My wife is like 'Don't even think about it.'" The bags prompted thousands of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube complaints. But Frito Lay had enough when sales dropped 11 percent. Frito Lay scrapped the Sun Chips experiment. Aurora Gonzalez is a spokeswoman for the company. "We've heard from a lot of consumers who recognize the journey that we're on and applauded the steps we've taken," Gonzales says. "But at the same time, we want our consumers to enjoy our products." The social media sites that helped lead to the change, were full of customers rejoicing with a collective 'thank goodness.' Bill Gupton - with the Charlotte chapter of the Sierra Club - is disappointed but still encouraged by Frito Lay's attempt. "There are companies that are really looking and asking their manufacturers and suppliers to provide information about the carbon footprint of the product, that are really questioning packaging - if you need this huge piece of plastic surrounding a little tiny device," he says. As you might imagine, this story has been closely monitored by Packaging Digest Magazine. Editorial Director John Kalkowski says the Sun Chips bags represent a great technology, and he's sorry to see them go. Kalkowski's disappointed because some consumers weren't willing to trade a compostable bag for some added noise. Kalkowski says decades ago, consumers also resisted metal cans when they gave the products inside a metallic taste. That problem was fixed and Kalkowski thinks the noisy bags will too. Better technology, and a desire to reduce waste means more companies are now willing to consider things like compostable packaging. "Sustainability is one of the major drivers in the packaging industry today," he says. "Every company is looking at ways that they can make the packaging more friendly to the environment, but also in many cases, these developments can help them be more profitable." Kalkowski and other experts agree: that while this was at least a step backwards for the sustainable packaging movement, overall, the industry has momentum. In fact, studies show more and more we'll begin to see our food and other products packaged in sustainable materials. Research by Global Industry Analysts shows the sustainable packaging industry is growing, and has managed to hold on to its momentum through the financial downturn. Some have even predicted the segment will double in size over the next five years, and total more than $170 billion. Meanwhile, the Sun Chips bags aren't completely gone. They're still being used for one variety of the chips. In the meantime, Frito Lay is going back to the drawing board in hopes of making the technology quieter, with plans to reintroduce another version of its compostable bag in the future.