Big Lessons From the SunChips Packaging Fiasco


Photo credit: cogdogblog/Creative Commons

2010 was a great year, but something happened that made me angry. But backing up and having a broader look, it makes sense. It goes like this: Sunchips, after more than a year of marketing getting people ready, launches with a fully compostable bag. It fails, hugely. Because it's too noisy for some. Noisy, really? Really.

At first this seemed absurd to me, but then, if I take off my "green glasses," I can see that an obnoxiously loud bag would take precedence over the fact that it can be composted. The reality is (at least currently) people are more interested in appearing green than actually engaging in green behavior, particularly that which impinges on their comfort.

And truth be told, actually composting so called compostable packaging is, for the most part, quite a difficult task.You often can't just toss it in the compost pile out back and voila, it composts. Companies need to consider the cost of developing and manufacturing compostable packaging, versus how many of their customers will actually compost it.

This reminds me of questions I get nearly every time I speak:

Is TerraCycle, in giving companies a way to upcycle difficult to recycle product packaging just enabling them to make more of it? Are we stunting interest in creating viable ecologically friendly packaging options?

To that I say, absolutely not. I've said it before and I say it here again: TerraCycle is a temporary solution to addressing the issue of waste proactively. When companies are able to produce all their packaging in such a way that it doesn't add to the waste stream and will make a positive contribution back to the environment, I will shutter TerraCycle's doors. Period.

Until then, TerraCycle has a role to play.

What are the lessons to be learned from the Sunchips fiasco? Where are the opportunities? My guess is the first company to come up with packaging that does not change consumer's experience, is easily compostable or biodegradable by the average, convenience motivated person, and keeps food fresh as long or longer than current packaging options will win.

Why should we expect any less?

Green companies need to hear this: Being green is not an excuse to put out an inferior product. Absolutely, aim for the highest sustainability possible in your products. But do not neglect quality, experience, or enjoyment. If you do, you lose, with everybody but the most dedicated green people.

Readers: What's your take on the Sunchips packaging, people's reaction to it? What's your company doing to be both green and broadly appealing? What emerging eco packaging options are coming out that we should know about?

Read more about the SunChips compostable bag:
Is Noise Really Why SunChips Should Ditch Bioplastic Packaging?
Ask Pablo: Are Sun Chips Bags Really Compostable?
In Canada, Sunchips Uses Its Noisy Compostable Bag As Marketing Gimmick
The Consumer Scoop on SunChips' 100 Percent Compostable Packaging

Tags: Composting