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Are Chip Bags Recyclable? How Do You Properly Dispose of Them?

Chip Bag

Americans love their snacks. While snack time offers an excellent way to boost your fruit or vegetable intake, we like to indulge in not-so-healthy choices, like chips. About 15.1 million people1 admit to consuming over eight bags of Lay’s Regular Chips a year, translating into over 120 million bags for that brand and type alone.  The question remains, what should you do with them?

Americans generate about 4.9 pounds of municipal solid waste (MSW) per capita. However, only just over 30% is recycled or composted. Chip bags contain polypropene. This chemical is recyclable as plastic packaging. However, chip bags are another story since they also are metalized with the addition of aluminum. That makes them non-recyclable because of this construction.

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Why You Can’t Recycle Chip Bags

The problem with chip bags is that they contain both aluminum and polypropylene. It isn’t that neither material is recyclable—both are. The issue is separating the two. That helps to explain why less than 1% of polypropylene is recycled. Cardboard pizza boxes had a similar dilemma for many of the same reasons. Grease and other foodstuffs would foul the slurries and make vats unusable.

Polypropylene is part of resin code 05, which you’ll also see in food containers, vehicle parts, and other industrial uses. Its advantages are its resilience and durability. That works for your chip bags but leaves you few alternatives for what to do with your empties. However, it’s not like manufacturers haven’t tried to change things. Enter Sun Chips.

Chip Bags trash
Image By: Ricky Singh, Unsplash

An Effort to Change the Plan

Sun Chips had the right idea. The manufacturer wanted to make a bag that was 100% compostable since recycling was out of the picture. The problem they faced was unexpected: the sound. You always knew when someone was walking around the grocery store with a bag of Sun Chips. They were that loud. They were so noisy that they registered 95 decibels (dB), according to one Air Force pilot.

Being loud is one thing. It’s another story when the sound approaches the danger zone for hearing loss. It’s worth noting the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) sets the recommended dB level at 85 dB. So, the marketing team at Sun Chips was probably in for a big surprise.

What You Should Do Instead

Unfortunately, you’re only left with one option: tossing your chip bags into the trash. Putting them in the recycling can isn’t going to change what we’ve learned about their construction. It can make the process more expensive if companies must resort to sorting to get rid of them. Plastic materials can take a long time to decompose. However, technology is looking for ways to speed up the process. You can lessen the environmental impact of chip bags by buying large-sized bags instead of single-servings.

solar power divider Final Thoughts

Although Sun Chips had the right idea, maybe another company will fulfill their mission and make them compostable or recyclable. Remember that technology often stumbles on its path to an effective solution. We’re confident we’ll see it someday with chip bags. In the meantime, put them in the trash and opt for products in more environmentally friendly packaging.

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Featured Image Credit: charlesdeluvio, Unsplash


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