A few months ago, I was sitting on a plane when I offered the woman next to me a piece of chewing gum. “No thanks,” she said, “chewing gum is so bad for the planet.” At first, I was a bit startled by her rather unthankful response, I always chewed gum at the end of a flight because my ears got blocked during the descent. A moment later, I was shocked. I’d never really thought about the environmental impact of chewing gum. So, as soon as I was on the ground and allowed to switch my phone on, I started googling.
MODERN CHEWING GUM IS ESSENTIALLY “FLAVOURED PLASTIC”
Modern chewing gum is made from polymers which are synthetic plastics that are non-biodegradable. These same plastics are also used to make car tyres and flooring. That means that every time we chew gum and chuck it onto the ground we are littering. Animals could mistake the gum for food. When they eat it, they could choke or it could get stuck in their digestive system and they could die.
Even if we do aim for the bin, our chewing gum will live on the earth in a landfill for a very, very long time.
I was astounded to learn about this environmental impact of chewing gum and even more surprised that I’d never thought of it before.
IT WASN’T ALWAYS THIS WAY
Chewing gum is not a modern food invention. It has been around for many, many years. It was traditionally made from a material called chicle. Chicle is the sap that comes from the Sapodilla tree in Central America. This form of chewing gum was biodegradable, and extraction of the tree sap also didn’t damage the trees. All good on the “green” front.
SOME COUNTRIES ARE TAKING ACTION AGAINST CHEWING GUM POLLUTION
The modern chewing gum pollution-and-litter problem has become so serious that the world is starting to take note.
In the UK a Chewing Gum Action Group was started to draw awareness to proper disposal of chewing gum – into a bin. Throwing gum onto the ground costs municipalities plenty of money to clean.
Gum Drop was started by British designer Anna Bullus. Anna helped set up the first company in the world to recycle and repurpose chewing gum. Gum Drop is backed by chewing gum producers such as Wrigley. It encourages the collection of chewed gum with special bins and receptacles and then makes products such as pencils, shoe soles and coffee cups out of recycled chewing gum.
I LOVE THIS! I wish we had it in SA!
Recycling company Terracycle runs chewing gum recycling projects across the US and Mexico, and soon also in the UK. They use the chewing gum they collect and blend it with other plastics to make products like door stops and rubber flooring.
BECOME GUM CONSCIOUS!
As far as I know, we don’t currently have projects such as Gum Drop and Terracycle in South Africa (if you are aware of any, please leave a comment). So, what can we do to limit our chewing gum pollution?
Eat less/no gum
The most obvious solution is to eat less gum. We can try to freshen our breath through other means like mouthwash.
Dispose of your gum responsibly
Secondly, we can make sure that we dispose of our gum in a bin so that it doesn’t make a mess on the pavement. It is very difficult to clean, could be eaten by animals or could stay there for a very, very long time.
Chew biodegradable gum
We can also look out for biodegradable versions of chewing gum. Easier said than done I tell you! Just because a packet says it’s vegan and made with natural Xylitol, it doesn’t mean it is biodegradable.
Unfortunately, ingredients lists also don’t provide much info. They simply list “Gum Base” which could mean anything. I do know that most of the biodegradable chewing gums are made from traditional material chicle, the natural gum base from the Sapodilla tree, so try to find these.
I recently came across The Humble Co. Chewing Gum in Clicks which is made from chicle (and is also sugar-free). It’s tasty, I’d certainly buy it again so that I can chew guilt-free!
I also came across Spry on Faithful-to-Nature which by all accounts seems to be earth-friendly but doesn’t specifically say that it’s made from chicle and is biodegradable. I called Faithful-to-Nature’s call centre and they promised to get back to me with the info. I will update this post as soon as they do.
Other biodegradable gum brands include Chicza’s, Chewsy, Simply Gum and Glee Gum. I’m trying to track down stockist of these so that I can try them.
HOPEFULLY, CHEWING GUM WILL BE THE NEXT PLASTIC STRAW
South Africa and the world have taken massive action against the use of plastic straws and I hope that products such as chewing gum will soon follow. Of course, we should consider our general use of plastics and try to limit them. Look out for plastic-free alternatives like wooden earbuds, bamboo toothbrushes, wooden kids toys etc. wherever you can, or try to re-use plastic wherever possible.
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