Author: Elise Catterall
Gum was one of my favourite things when I was a kid (all those days perfecting giant bubbles) and that affection has lingered into adulthood even though I should know better. Well, it has lingered until now. I knew it wasn’t particularly good for me, and I knew there were issues with the packaging side of my chewing gum habit, but I never stopped to think about the actual environmental impact of the gum itself.
So, chewing gum. Let’s look at it. It has been a ‘thing’ for millennia (originally just tree sap) but it became a commercial product in the 1840s. For about one hundred years, it was still a relatively natural product made from a plant-based resin, but in the 1950s, it shifted to being made from a synthetic polymer base (yep, a plastic) and, for the most part, that is where we are still at now. And, it probably goes without saying, that on top of the synthetic base, it is flavoured and sweetened with a range of artificial ingredients. That all sounds pretty gross when you stop and think about it.
The bigger problem, though, is the fact that the chewing gums most widely available on the market are not at all biodegradable. And, while each person tends to only consume a small amount at a time, en-masse we are disposing a huge amount of what really is a single-use plastic. Adding to this is the fact that much of the gum that is consumed is not disposed of properly (just think of all that gum under tables, on footpaths, stuck to your shoe, etc). In fact, some statistics have stated that up to 90% of gum isn’t binned - it comes second to cigarette butts in terms of litter - making it a significant hazard to animals (especially birds) who mistake it for food. Then there are the chemicals used by councils to clean it away, adding to the impact on our urban ecosystem in the process.
Some recycling solutions exist. As an example, UK company Gumdrop creates recycling bins – Gumdrop Bins - to collect chewed gum, and, via its repurposing technology Gum-tec, turns the gum into more Gumdrop Bins – creating a closed loop cycle to remove gum from the environment. And there are plastic-free alternatives – including a natural Australian-made chewing gum, however these aren’t the packets of gum you see at the checkout line of the supermarket, so the average chewer is not going to easily switch across.
In any case, for me, I’m done with chewing gum. Even if you take away all the other issues (packaging, possible health issues, proper disposal), I would still be contributing more plastic (a single-use plastic – with all the resources needed to make and process it throughout it’s life) to the environment. So, I’m happy to go without.
For more information, check out this fab infographic by CustomMade that shows the extent of the environmental issue of gum in the UK. Australia probably wouldn’t be too different.
See you next week! - Elise
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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.
Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.