Is Noise Really Why SunChips Should Ditch Bioplastic Packaging?


photo: Alan Levine/Creative Commons

In case you haven't heard already, those much-touted, supposedly 100% biodegradable bioplastic bags that SunChips rolled out a while ago are no more. Apparently the issue wasn't many of the genuine questions about the eco-friendliness of the particular variety of bioplastic used, which were raised since the introduction last year, but it seems too many people didn't like the extra-crinkly noise the bags made. TVs Silenced By Noisy Bags?
As Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard aptly asks, "Is this what it comes down to--we want our chips crunchy but our bags have to remain silent? ... Seriously? The company is bagging the bag because American couch potatoes can't hear their TVs over the sound of their chip sack?"

The answer to that question is apparently a solid yes. SunChips sales have declined 11% in the past year and the bags are taking the blame.

I admit I sat on this announcement in semi-disbelief from when I first heard about it yesterday from GreenBiz. It just seems too absurd to be true.

Check out the USA Today summary (the emphasis is mine):

The company is returning them to their former bags that can't be recycled--but won't wake the neighbors--while it works frantically to come up with a new, quieter eco-friendly bag.

The noise of the bag--due to an unusual molecular structure that makes the bag more rigid--has been compared to everything from lawnmowers to jet engines.

Lawnmowers to jet engines. Lawnmowers to jet engines?!?

SunChips Bags Thousands of Times Louder Than Conversation?
Are you effing kidding me?!? This would be a perfect time on video to compare the actual sound of one of the bioplastic chip bags opening to a lawnmower and/or jet engine--Daily Show clip, tomorrow, hmmm, anyone?--but since this is print, I'll just list some relevant stats on the decibel levels being compared here.

Well, our colleagues over at How Stuff Works, tell me that a normal conversation is about 60 decibels, a lawnmower comes in at 90dB and a jet engine comes in at 120dB.

Now let's assume that the chip bag is slightly louder than normal conversation--they are indeed crinklier than the old-is-new-again bags--so perhaps 65 dB. That may even be too much, 61-62 dB may be more accurate. You certainly don't have to raise your voice over them.

The decibel scale increases logarithmically, so the difference between that bag and the lawnmower isn't just a little bit louder, it's hundreds of times louder. And the jet engine is even louder still, thousands of times louder than normal conversation.

While I don't have either a jet engine or a SunChips bag handy, I'm pretty darn certain that if that Boeing 747 is cranking up one of its engines and I'm standing next to it I can't hear someone screaming into my ear, let alone the comparative whisper of bioplastic being ripped apart so I can enjoy some of the crispy french oniony goodness contained within.

Pull Your Head Out of the Chip Bag & Look At The Bigger Picture
If the collective American psyche can't manage to overcome the truly marginal inconvenience of a slightly louder snack food bag, seeing that there are genuine collective social and environmental benefits to not using so much petroleum-based plastics (that's again assuming, for sake of discussion, that bioplastics are truly sustainable--not assured), well, as Kate Sheppard rightly concludes: We're doomed.

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More on Bioplastics:
Better Bioplastic Built From Nut Shells and Plant Stems
SunChips to Introduce Completely Compostable Bags
The Consumer Scoop on SunChips' 100 Percent Compostable Packaging

Tags: Bioplastics | Composting | Oil | Waste

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