With their flashy packaging and bold logo, Lay’s potato chips always catch eyes in the snacks section of supermarkets. Among the numerous flavours in existence, the Classic one, simple, delicious and addictive, has conquered many consumers over the years, including me. As sustainability has become the big talk between consumers and big companies, we can’t help but wonder how sustainable are the oh so good Classic potato chips? Well, from what I’ve discovered, the company makes great efforts to achieve the SDG’s standards but it still has a way to go, especially when it still struggles with issues like the use of plastics and a heavy carbon footprint.
Lay’s classic potato chips only contains three ingredients: Potatoes, Vegetable oil (Sunflower, Corn and/or Canola Oil), and Salt. No artificial ingredients or flavors are added. Apart from the potatoes, there is a lack of information on where the ingredients come from. The potatoes are sourced from 120 different farms in 25 states including Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Washington. The senior vice president of sales at Frito-Lay (Chris Quinn) said in an abcNEWS article, “We source these products locally and we produce them locally and get them straight into the store in a matter of days.” According to the same article, “The potatoes at Black Gold Farms are loaded and trucked two and a half hours north to Perry, Georgia, where 1,230 workers are employed at just one of Frito-Lay’s 30 manufacturing plants.” Thus, the company works and is involved with various local communities and creates employment for the populations of these areas. While Frito-Lay talked about reducing its use of cooking oils, I couldn’t find any information about how it disposes of the used cooking oil. That is quite concerning, especially when it’s known how waste from cooking oils (WCO) is devastating for the environment. In fact, they have physical effects such as coating animals and plants and suffocating them by oxygen depletion. They also foul shorelines, clog water treatment plants, and catch fire when ignition sources are present. It is imperative that the company discloses this type of information to consumers as it will definitely influence their choice to use their product or not. That is what transparency is about Frito-Lay!
Finally, Lay’s classic potato chips bags are made of aluminum laminated with polypropylene (synthetic thermoplastic). They are generally not recyclable in most cities since they are made of mixed commodities that cannot be separated. Frito-Lay says they have reduced plastic by more than 7.8 million lbs since 2019. However, because it is not said where they come from, and knowing how big the company is and how many brands they generate, it’s hard to judge if it’s a major advance. Whatever the case, an alternative to plastic in their packages should be found since it is so deadly for the environment and only a small amount of it is actually recycled over the world.
The process of making the Lay’s classic potato chips is not so different from making regular chips. The potatoes are transported from the farms to the manufacturing plants, where they are then peeled, sorted, sliced and washed. After that, they go to a fryer that can cook 7000 chips per hour, then to a vision system that removes any defect; under fried and over fried chips. Next, they are forwarded to the salted or seasoned products section (in the case of classic potato chips, it is the salted products section), then a conveyer system brings the to the packaging area.
To avoid sending the wastes produced to landfills, the plants implemented a zero-landfill recycling program. The program includes employee-led recycling schemes, the reuse of cardboard shipping boxes, and the use of plant waste (such as potato peelings, corn husks, over cooked and under cooked potatoes) for livestock feed. They also have a program called TerraCycle, in which they use the excess of bags and films for packaging as material to generate products like reusable handbags. Frito-Lay uses a 60,000lb/h biomass boiler that reduces the consumption of natural gas by burning agricultural wastes and wood to produce additional heat and electricity. Thanks to that, they produce all the electricity they can use at the plants. However good this sounds, it is important to remember that all those transformations and chips production process use a lot of machines. And with the number of manufacturing plants Frito-Lay owns, its carbon footprint is unthinkable. In an old interview (posted in 2011 on YouTube), the company mentioned that, thanks to their new technologies (like the biomass boiler), they were able to cut down about 65 millions ton of C02. You can only imagine how much they still produce. They still have a long way to go to be sustainable in that aspect.
Lay’s was created in Atlanta, Georgia by Herman Lay in 1938. It merged with the Frito company founded by Charles E. Doolin in 1961 to form Frito-Lay Inc. with the slogan “betcha can’t just eat one”. In 1965, the company again merged with the Pepsi-Cola Company to finally for PepsiCo Inc. Frito-lay, since its merging with PepsiCo, has been even more active on the sustainability development scene. In fact, they built a facility in Casa Grande,Arizona taking into account the various environmental issues. It was really well thought out! The 188,00ft^2 facility takes advantage of its location (the desert) and uses solar energy to operate. As a result, the company reduced the plant’s electricity consumption by 90% and its use of natural gas by 80%, cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. It also recycles about 75% of water thanks to a water recovery plant with membrane bio-reactor and low pressure reverse osmosis technologies that produces recycled water in line with the EPA’s ( Environmental Protection Agency) approved standard. This technology allowed them to reduce water use of the plant’s production line by 17 %. Also, more recently, in partnership with the UEFA Foundation and streetfootballworld, Lay’s is using recycled packaging to help create sustainable football pitches. This global initiative and commitment by Lay’s has been verified by independent consultancy, Good Business, with an in-depth study finding that Lay’s RePlay pitches have a significantly lower environmental impact than alternative artificial pitches across several areas. This includes reduced greenhouse gas emissions, microplastic pollution, recyclable material and turf, ecological disturbance, and water usage.
Their 2019 Sustainability Report shares progress across the priority areas where PepsiCo believes it can have the most meaningful impact: agriculture, water, climate, packaging, products, and people. The essay is detailed and shows clear and measurable progresses-- goals they were not able to fully achieve by 2019 but also future goals and their plan on how to achieve them. Overall, PepsiCo is doing a pretty great job; they are active in a lot of areas and have developed a pretty strong social and environmental conscience. However, when doing quick research on some of their products or brands, you can see that there are pieces of information missing or lacking. In regard to Lay’s, this research highlights issues with how they dispose of their wastes, or measurable variables on their carbon footprint. Therefore, I think they still have to work on their transparency.