Gum: A Sticky Problem
Chewing gum is the second most commonly littered item behind cigarette butts. This is mostly due to the fact that gum isn’t biodegradable, contrary to what most people believe. Let’s discuss the history of gum, what it’s made of, environmental impact, and amazing new products that are paving the way to sustainable fresh breath!
Chewing gum as we know it has been around since the 1850’s. Well…sort of. Chicle, a substance derived from the sapodilla tree has been chewed in the Americas since the Mayans, was used by the Aztecs, and was then used by manufacturers in the United States up until the mid 1900’s when manufacturers started switching to synthetic ingredients instead. Long story short, chewing gum is not a revelatory or new habit and has been used as both a breath freshener and for other medicinal purposes for centuries. What changed was the ingredients. What was once naturally derived (though different cultures and parts of the world used different substances for chewing), is now synthetically produced and contains PLASTIC. Yes, you read that right, gum is now made of plastic. Although the formulation of gum bases is considered proprietary information for industry competitors, three main components make up all gum bases: resin, wax, and elastomer. Resin (ex. terpene) is the main chewable portion. Wax softens the gum. Elastomers add flexibility. The molecular composition of gum base is very similar to that of plastics and rubbers.1
80–90% of chewing gum is not disposed of properly and it’s the second most common form of litter after cigarette butts. Gum is not water soluble, and there for, when not properly discarded ends up littering public streets, getting washed into water ways, stuck on your shoe (we’ve all been there), and consumed by wildlife. Chewing gum has been found inside animals such as raccoons and dogs, fish via being flushed into water ways, and birds.
The Good News: Chew Away
There are companies that now make biodegradable gum AND companies that repurpose/recycle gum! SimplyGum is our personal favorite and is here to freshen your breath and support your chewing habit the sustainable way! With a full product line of eco-friendly gums, mints, and candies, you’ll never feel the need to reach for toxic generic gum again. Remember earlier when we talked about chicle being used by the Mayans, Aztecs, and first gum producers in the Americas? Well that’s what SimplyGum uses! Three cheers for natural ingredients (or should we say three chews)! In addition to the actual gum product being superior, SimplyGum also provides sheets to wrap your gum in once used for proper disposal.
The Good News: Awesome Companies
Gumdrop is a UK based company with bubblegum pink disposal receptacles. Gumdrop Ltd has been founded on a closed loop recycling process. The whole Gumdrop along with its contents of waste gum is recycled and processed to manufacture new Gumdrops and innovative products made from recycled and processed chewing gum. With Gumdrop’s help, recycled and processed chewing gum can become a vast number of things from boots, to mobile phone covers, stationary, packaging and much more. As well as being used as a more sustainable choice to virgin plastics.
Terracycle’s zero waste gum disposal box is a perfect solution for disposing of gum in a sustainable way. Order a box, fill it up with gum, send it back and bada-bing-bada-boom your gum will be recycled for you!
Now that you are educated a bit more on the history and impact of gum with some modern solutions, what are your thoughts? Did you know that generic gum is non water-soluble and environmentally-damaging? Are you willing to try a new company or participate in proper disposal? Let us know!
1. ”Gum base". In Fritz, D (ed.). Formulation and Production of Chewing and Bubble Gum (2 ed.). Essex: Kennedy's Publications Ltd. pp. 93–118.