The classic Lay’s potato chip, associated with the phrase “it’s impossible to eat just one” is generally beloved by all. But, does Mother Earth love Lay’s? Not really. While Lay’s pridefully makes their products in America, sourcing their potatoes from over 120 farms, the potato chip business is currently not very sustainable. Mostly as a result of non-renewable energy sources and excessive plastic packaging. The snack economy in the US is massive (worth over $28.2 billion) and is not going anywhere soon. So for this reason, it is really important that corporations such as Lay’s convert to more sustainable packaging and renewable energy sources. Frito-Lay and all other snack corporations, who have such a consistent consumer base, need to be the companies that pave way for a more sustainable snack industry.
One good thing about potato chips is that they are relatively simple. All of the ingredients in Classic Lay’s Potato Chips are Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Sunflower, Corn, and/or Canola Oil), and Salt. This is an impressively short list. Also, the fact that Lay’s does not use palm oil in this product is a wonderful surprise as palm oil is notoriously destructive to the environment. The downfall of this product is its packaging. Despite Frito-Lay’s attempts at integrating “sustainability measures'' by decreasing their water consumption, converting to natural gas (which is not renewable), switching to all LED lighting in their manufacturing facilities, their packaging is still not recyclable. The crinkly shiny lining inside of most snack bags including Lay’s is made out of aluminum and the outside is plastic. These materials cannot be separated to be recycled so they are currently filling up our landfills and polluting our oceans. Lay’s makes over a billion dollars annually, they can afford to convert to recyclable or more biodegradable packaging. Since they are the leader of their industry it is inexcusable that they have not made the switch to more sustainable packaging, so for this, they receive a 0.1 rating in this category.
Frito Lay makes their chips in massive manufacturing facilities across the country. The potatoes are sourced from over 125 potato farms from 25 states. One farm, Black Gold Farms based in Live Oak, FL has been growing potatoes for Lays since 1928. The potatoes from this farm are taken to Perry, Georgia where 1,230 workers make them into chips. There are 30 Lay’s manufacturing plants similar to this across the US. The potatoes are loaded into the factory and put on massive conveyor belts. They are cleaned then the skin is removed. The potatoes are sliced thin then fried and seasoned. 4-5 pounds of potatoes are used to make 1 pound of potato chips so this suggests that the process is somewhat wasteful. The color, size, and temperature are inspected thoroughly throughout the manufacturing process by both people and robots. Digital systems are used to inspect and sort and then discard the unusable potatoes. Frito-Lay claims to be working to make their factories and manufacturing process more “environmentally friendly” by reducing the environmental impact of their fleet and converting to all-natural gas. This will ultimately not have a positive environmental impact, natural gas is still a fossil fuel and pollutes our atmosphere. Lay’s has converted its factories to all LED lighting and is investing in creating “greener factories” but upon further inspection, a lot of what they are doing is pretty surface level. Lay’s claims to have reduced packaging plastic by more than 7.8 million lbs since 2019 and reuse their cardboard up to 5 times saving “2 million trees”. While all of these initiatives sound great they are actually more of a distraction for the conscious consumer. Without converting to renewable energy sources and sustainable packaging they are still pushing the conveyor belt in the wrong direction. They need to do better, so in this category, they will receive a 0.5.
H.W Lay, a traveling salesman during the Great Depression invented Lay’s chips in 1931. He started by selling them out of the trunk of his Ford Model A. Originally the chips were sold for 10 cents a bag, now they are up to $4.79 for a 13 oz bag, arguably still a good deal. Lay’s became massively popular over the last century and is now a 13 billion dollar corporation owned by PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay. Frito-Lay proudly produces Lay’s products in the United States in 30 manufacturing plants. Sourcing the potatoes from 125 farms from 25 states, Frito-Lay potato chip production is 24 hours a day to keep up with ever-high demand. In 2018 alone more than 4 billion bags of Lay’s potato chips were produced. Frito-Lay is a massive corporation with more than 55,000 employees. Despite the extensive details I could find on the manufacturing end of Lay’s potato chips, I found very limited and extensively negative information about how Frito Lay treats their employees and what kind of labor rights they provide. This lack of transparency about who makes the products concerns me. It insinuates that their employees are not receiving sufficient workers’ rights and compensation. Also when I searched “Lay’s employees” the first article that popped up was a scandal about Frito-Lay being sued for Religious Discrimination. This article was accompanied by others describing lawsuits over labor law violations and bad working conditions. Pepsi-Co has selfishly contributed to a massive list of atrocities, negatively impacting their workers and communities across the world. For this category, Lay’s will be receiving a zero for lack of transparency and providing less than ideal working conditions. Frito-Lay needs to do better.