Noisy, biodegradable SunChips bag meets its maker

The SunChips bag, rest its soul, was a total narc. It showed your cards, alerting roomies and spouses of your raging chip habit.

See, the snack came in a 100 percent compostable bag made of a stiff plant formula — good for the environment but REALLY LOUD. Like an orchestra thunder sheet crossed with crackling bacon, illegal fireworks and the tears of a thousand tin men.

Bags of SunChips sat sad and lonely Tuesday in a St. Petersburg Publix, on sale two for $6. A checkout girl cringed as she ran one over a scanner.

It was among the last of the noisy bags, which have been on shelves since 2009. Frito-Lay has said it will return five of the six SunChips flavors back to the old bag this month. Only original flavor SunChips will keep the compostable bag, a way to keep the idea afloat while scientists work to develop a quieter version.

"We know that there is a lot of positive feedback about the compostable bags," said Frito-Lay spokeswoman Aurora Gonzalez. "But people also want us to improve it, so we are working on a second generation."

The SunChips debacle once again took America's temperature for environmental do-gooding. We will help at any cost — as long as it's not, you know, annoying.

"We love new things," said Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group market research company. "In the end, we will only stay with things that are new if it makes our lives easier and cheaper. Otherwise, it only offers one thing: novelty."

SunChips tried to embrace its noise problem. The bags were printed with disclaimers: "This bag is louder because it is compostable." But SunChips sales decreased as people revolted.

They posted funny YouTube videos documenting terrified chip retrieval. One Air Force pilot logged the decibels of the bag and called it louder than his cockpit. They formed Facebook groups, including one with almost 45,000 members called SORRY BUT I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SUN CHIPS BAG.

That bag drives me nuts! I love that it is recyclable, but can't they make it quieter??

The first time I bought a bag, the guy in the checkout lane kept trying to remark about how loud it was to me and I kept saying, "what?"

Several so-called "green" products have struggled to find a snuggly reception from the public.

In July, laws in more than a dozen states mandated that makers of detergents reduce phosphates, which help keep dishes from getting spotty but also pollute waters and kill plant life. Now, people all over the country are frustrated, finding their dishes covered in white film.

Then there are the toilets.

Government regulations in 1994 said commodes couldn't use more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. This led to the birth of low-flow toilets. People found them so icky, some legislators tried to repeal the law. Toilet models have improved since, but people still object. Writer Dave Barry has long crusaded against low-flow toilets, including in a Miami Herald column from 1998:

They work fine for one type of bodily function, which, in the interest of decency, I will refer to here only by the euphemistic term "No. 1." But many of the new toilets do a very poor job of handling "acts of Congress," if you get my drift.

Biodegradable food packaging such as milk jugs have come and gone, Balzer said, never lasting long. Only one material ever reigns supreme.

"We collect information asking everyone what they eat, and what was the packaging of the container of food you just ate," Balzer said. "For 30 years, one packaging matter has grown: plastic."

Still, some people will steel their eardrums to see a chip container dissolve into the Earth.

"I didn't even buy SunChips before that bag," said Lori McDuffie Tong, a 40-year-old mother of three and recycling enthusiast in Feather Sound. "It's worth it. But I can't make lunches while the kids are sleeping."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Noisy, biodegradable SunChips bag meets its maker 10/05/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 8:13am]

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