10/07/2010 12:08 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Death of the Biodegradable Bag

I am not an idealist by any stretch of the imagination -- I never have been. There was a point, however, when I truly believed that mankind would one day decide to embrace environmentally friendly habits -- even if this decision was born of sheer survival instinct. Recently, though, my outlook has darkened considerably: I have become convinced that our species is beyond saving.

Admittedly, this conclusion was not born of any earth shattering event -- no oil spill or species extinction provoked my shift in attitude. Like anyone who watches the news, I am largely numb to such calamities. They hardly even seem man-made; they have taken on a bizarrely natural aspect. People are part of the larger ecosystem, like any other creature we're just trying to get by. Such is the collective inner monologue of modern man; surely if ocelots were the dominant species they wouldn't let some marshlands get in the way of their new parking lot -- why should we?

Perhaps that is why it took a uniquely human event to convince me, once and for all, that there's really nothing that even the most vociferous activist can do to stop man from destroying the environment in the name of comfort, profit and efficiency. Indeed, I was stunned to hear that Frito-Lay was discontinuing use of biodegradable Sun Chips bags due to consumer complaints related to the new material's particularly noisy crinkling. Are we willing to sacrifice anything?

Sure, the bags were loud, even surprisingly so. I'm willing to concede, even, that they would present an inconvenience in some cases; perhaps those who usually enjoyed their Sun Chips in libraries or monasteries felt particularly slighted. Outside of these particular venues, however, I cannot imagine a situation in which the imagined inconvenience of a louder bag could not have easily been overcome. Too loud during the game? Turn up the volume. Playing chess? Put them in a bowl. Annoying while studying? Pour them into a cup. The solutions are endless.

Instead, people changed their shopping habits -- some steadfast souls even wrote complaints. Ignoring the fact that these bags represented a legitimate effort on the part of a major corporation to embrace sustainable practices, the American consumer cared only that their beloved chips were making unusual noises in the shopping cart. Our stubbornness, it seems, knows no end. Indeed, if we truly are unwilling to change the way we carry our junk food around any talk of alternative energies, responsible agriculture or resource conservation should be entirely banished. The changes these movements would engender are a bit more comprehensive than those caused by some extra-snappy packaging.

In short, I am losing hope. Perhaps instead of making material changes in our everyday lives we have no choice but to continue blundering on, taking what we can while we are able. It is a grim realization, but all is not lost. Indeed, there is a silver lining to the death of the biodegradable bag: it has proven that our nominally free market continues to function according to some sort of consumer response. Unfortunately, though, the vaunted invisible hand is unwilling to open anything but the quietest bag of Sun Chips -- no matter the cost.