Are potato chip bags recyclable?

They’re best to munch on when watching your favorite series, hanging out with friends, or even reading a book. But have you ever wondered where these shiny bags end up after you’ve consumed all its salty goodness?

Despite being recyclable in a way, potato chip bags need a more tedious process to be recycled.

Potato chip bags cannot go into your single stream recycle bin, since most chip bags are made from aluminum laminated with polypropylene. Also known as metalized polypropylene or low density polyethylene film, these chip bags are actually a hot plastic aluminum hybrid mess.

The good news is that companies are starting to notice and incorporate eco-friendly techniques at the end of their products. More and more companies have begun to upcycle used chip bags to avoid a destination of the landfill. Instead, chip bags are remade into products like clipboards, tote bags or trash cans.

The need for perfect potato chip bags

Aside from the complexities of seasonings and preservatives that go into creating a flavored chip, we should also think hard about the bag the chips are packaged in. 

Food packaging can have a significant impact on food taste, quality, longevity and marketability.

Something that seems as simple as a brightly colored plastic bag can actually be a good complex. A chip bag needs to keep contaminants and moisture out simply because no one wants to eat soggy chips. 

The tricky part is doing so without leaching any of its components into the contents – which could make food taste and smell really bad. Worst case scenario of chip bags being cheaply made is to expose consumers to substances that could pose health hazards. 

What are potato chip bags made of?

A typical potato chip bag is made up of multiple layers of polymer materials: 

  • Biaxially Oriented Polypropylene (BOPP) on the inside 
  • Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) in the middle 
  • Another middle layer of BOPP 
  • An outer layer of Surlyn, a thermoplastic resin 

Each layer performs a specific function. BOPP is an excellent moisture barrier, keeping moisture away from your chips. It is also resistant to oils and grease, which enables you not to get chip grease on your fingers when you pick up the bag.  

LDPE is also resistant to vegetable oils. While both LDPE and Surlyn are strong and flexible, it does not mean they are unbreakable. This means your chip bag won’t burst if you drop it, but you can easily pull it open to get at the yummy stuff inside.

Not all potato chip bags are created equal.

Different chip manufacturers have different packaging materials with varying combinations of polymers. Just as brands are constantly looking for new ways to improve the product, improving the packaging is also a never ending process. 

In addition to deciding what the next chip flavor should be, manufacturers also do a lot of packaging testing to ensure that their bags meet not only the needs of their customers, but also regulatory requirements. 

In order to maintain quality, tests like film layer analysis, material identification, CFR testing, and failure analysis are conducted when producing potato chip bags. These tests help companies confirm if chip bags can keep food as fresh as possible, further proving that failure of the packaging itself affects the taste and quality of the food it contains.

Common questions about potato chip bags

How many chip bags are thrown away each year?

Potato chips are the most popular one snack food among America – all flavors and types. Frito Lay sells about $12 million worth of potato chips annual. If you break that down into about $3 per bag, that makes around 4 million bags sold annually.

Where do potato chip bags go?

Since most potato and tortilla chip bags are produced from aluminum laminated with polypropylene, also known as metalized polypropylene, potato chip bags need a more tedious recycling method. Only a small percentage of these bags actually get recycled, while the rest ends up in landfills.

Are potato chip bags biodegradable?

Snack bags are recycling contaminants. The shiny lining in chip bags is often aluminum or a special mixed plastic. Because they are partly plastic, chip bags remain to be non-biodegradable. Despite efforts to make more environmentally-friendly potato chip bags, fully biodegradable chip bags are still quite far-fetched.

The growing call to boycott products packed in plastic puts pressure for companies to come up with greener alternatives in packing their products. Until these companies all follow suit to create a more sustainable packaging, potato chip bags could still end up in landfills instead of recycling facilities.

Are potato chip bags recyclable?