Does the SunChips Bag Really Break Down in a Compost Pile?

I grew up with a compost pile.

Uh, it wasn't in my room or anything, it was in a corner of our backyard. As kids, my brother and sisters and I would dump scrap table greens, coffee grounds and eggshells into a bin, where bacteria, insects and worms would grind it into a rich soil.

For me, composting has always been tied to gardening, so decades of apartment living has meant a long break from the practice. Last summer, I spotted a new bag of Sun Chips. The bag was marked as being 100% compostable, with staggering rate of disintegration depicted on the reverse.

Three weeks before the bag started to crumble? It seemed impossible. Also, it looked photoshopped.

Out of an apartment block and now living closer to the land, this was my opportunity to try composing again. I'd start a compost bin, then stuff a sunchips bag inside and watch it crumble.

I was excited to try it, because there was NO WAY it was going to work. My experience was telling me that it takes longer than three weeks for a palm leaf to deteriorate. A paper bag was going to take longer than the Sunchips illustration promised.

I actually tested two sunchips bags. The first one I left in direct sunlight in a dry dirt lot. I thought the heat and light might spur the material to break down.


I stashed a second SunChips bag in a garbage can half-full of grass clippings.

I added vegetable scraps and water regularly, and occasionally churned the contents.

Within three weeks, the direct sunlight bag was wasting away into scraps.

Unfortunately, it wasn't because the bag was dissolving. A construction crew had graded the land and scraped it with heavy machinery, shredding my experiment.

The bag in the compost heap was safe. I left it in there for many weeks. Then it got cold and rainy, poor weather for dumping out dirt experiments.

Finally, 25 weeks later, it was warm out. Time to dump out the compost bin. The lower half of the compost was wet mud and slime. After some quick archeology, I found the SunChips bag.

It was extremely dirty.

But that's all. After a wash it looked great.

This Sunchips bag was not composted. I mean, technically I composted it, but it didn't deteriorate in the compost heap.

Or did it? Although the printing was still bright and clean on the new bag, the material did feel a little softer. I needed a closer look, so I busted out the Eyeclops 200-times magnifying toy.

Here is a before/after look at the letter "B" from the bag.

(These "before" pictures are actually from an old bag which I kept in the dry garage for the period of this experiment.)

The uncomposted bag shows a bright white "B". The composted bag shows some wear, with brown spots.

The New Bag

The Composted Bag

The uncomposted bag shows white background near the orange "n" lettering, where the composted bag shows some tiny cracks and rivulets in the surface of the ink.

The New Bag

Please ignore the green color. That is a result of a lapse in the Eyeclops color-correction. The composted bag was not actually colored green.

The Composted Bag

The solid orange from the Frito Lay logo did not look affected. It was identical in the composted and uncomposted sample.

The New Bag

The Composted Bag

Finally, this view of the metallic interior of the bags.

The new bag has a bright, freshly rolled metallic appearance, where the composted bag has a dull, mottled look with some brown spots.

The New Bag

The Composted Bag


The material of the composted bag did seem weaker, so I filmed myself ripping both bags.

It was a pretty good idea for testing the difference between the two bags, but a terrible idea for a video.

The SunChips bag didn't disintegrate in my compost pile, and I doubt they will disintegrate in any home compost pile. In 25 weeks, most of the other material in the pile had completely broken down, which might actually halt what little decomp was occurring on the bag itself.

When examined at a great magnification, the bag appear to be wearing down slightly.

I'm glad the bags are constructed of a material which is capable of breaking down under certain conditions, but I'm disappointed that those conditions aren't accurately portrayed on the bag.

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