Are you chewing gum or chewing plastic?
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
Most people don’t know that chewing gums are usually made out of the same materials used in car tires and flooring.
What is inside a chewing gum?
Chewing gum was originally made out of the raw ingredient chicle, but as chewing gum started to gain demand and popularity in the 1950s, manufacturers replaced it with synthetic rubber. Specifically, it contains an oil-based synthetic polymer, the same material used to make car tires and flooring.
Another particularly problematic ingredient is a thermoplastic polymer called polyvinyl acetate. It is the same substance used to make glue and chewing gum base for many popular chewing gum brands.
The environmental Impact
It is a known fact that plastics and synthetic rubbers last for hundreds of years, and I'm also assuming you've never seen a car tire compost in a garden before. So, if chewing gum is essentially made out of the same polymer, where have we been throwing our gum for the past 70 years?
As many may have experienced before, chewing gum often end up under school tables, restaurants, street pavements, walls, and all sorts of creative locations. Seattle even had a wall specifically for sticking chewed gum. Unlike cigarettes, there are no 'gum trays' in bars, airports, or schools for our convenience, easily making chewing gum the world's second most common form of litter, following cigarette buds.
So not only does chewing gum cause a negative environmental impact but because of its sticky quality, it makes removal extremely difficult and costly.
The UK is estimated to have spent around £60m every year to remove used chewing gum from pavements alone all-throughout the country. However, with only 10% to 20% of all gums in the UK being disposed of properly in bins, and with more than 100,000 tons of chewing gum consumed each year, it is a losing battle. Above that, the cleaning agents used to remove the chewing gum could be toxic to the environment as well.
Additionally, animals like birds or dogs could mistake gum for food, possibly causing death by choking or clogged digestive systems.
Information is Key
A survey commissioned by Iceland Supermarket in the UK revealed that most people were not even aware of the components of ordinary chewing gum. Where 85% of people in the UK did not even know chewing gum contains plastic.
The public's lack of knowledge of chewing gum also comes from the fact that many companies tend to dodge around the topic too. Examples of a few large chewing gum companies that do not produce biodegradable products are Extra, Orbit, Trident, and Hubba Bubba.
So drop your habit of spitting gum out on the street and reduce your environmental impact by throwing your gum in the bin. Better yet, stop chewing gum altogether and opt for chewy candy or biodegradable gum options instead. Chewing gum is not a necessity for most, and it's a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint and help our environment!
• Jones, David. “Chewing Gum - 100,000 Tonnes of Plastic Pollution Every Year.” Just One Ocean, 18 Jul. 2017, justoneocean.org/chewing-gum.
• Knight, Rob. “Iceland Becomes First UK Supermarket to Sell Plastic-Free, Biodegradable Chewing Gum.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 1 Aug. 2018, www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/iceland-plastic-free-gum-biodegradable-waste-environment-a8472431.html.
• Ross, Charley. “This Is What Your Chewing Gum Habit Is Doing To The Environment.” HuffPost UK, HuffPost UK, 12 July 2018, www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/this-is-what-your-chewing-gum-habit-is-doing-to-the-environment_uk_5aec2613e4b041fd2d253823.