Lets talk about chewing gum. I’ve never been a chewer, it’s just never appealed to me. Once in a blue moon I would maybe accept a piece from someone if it’s offered (we’re talking maybe twice a year here), and I don’t think I’ve ever purchased or carried a pack for myself. It’s for this exact reason that I’ve never actually thought about chewing gum until right now. When trying to minimise my impact on the planet I’ve been thinking about the things I use every day; but today as I walked to my local tube station I looked at the ground and realised I needed to look into something most people use every day, because there was gum everywhere. Literally all over the pavement, and it had taken weeks of me living here to even give it a second glance. So let’s talk about gum, and let’s talk about some more sustainable ways to stay minty fresh.
A Problem to Chew On
The concept of chewing gum isn’t new. The Mayans chewed chicle, the sap from the sapodilla tree, and The Greeks chewed mastiche, gum made from the mastic tree. The problem is that, as time as has passed, these natural beginnings have been replaced with synthetic alternatives. Modern day chewing gum is made from polymers, which are synthetic plastics. The main base ingredient in gum nowadays is a substance called polyisobutylene, a synthetic rubber derived from crude oil (aka, made of fossil fuel) that doesn’t biodegrade. The company that manufactures the base for many of the big gum brands is Goodyear, a company that makes car tyres. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t quite sit right with me. There are of course environmental concerns when it comes to the extraction of crude oil, but I’m also not so hot on the idea of chewing something made by a tyre company. Let’s think about this for a second: humans can’t digest chewing gum, and neither can any other living creature, it passes through our system unchanged. It’s so hard to remove because it’s highly resistant to aggressive chemicals, it doesn’t degrade and it isn’t affected by weather conditions. Sometimes gum can make its way into the food chain: it has been found in fish where it can accumulate toxins over time and birds have died from eating it.
To add insult to injury, gum is also a big litter problem, in fact it’s the biggest litter issue after cigarette butts. A large amount of gum is not disposed of properly, and worldwide people are chewing around 560,000 tons of this stuff every year. If you’re into zero waste, that’s not so nice. Because it’s so dang resistant its ridiculously hard and time consuming to clean up, on average London spends £10 million per year cleaning up chewing gum. Imagine where we could put all that money across the country instead?
A Sustainable Solution
It’s not all bad news! There are new options out there for recycling gum into a variety of products from Gumdrop Ltd, who not only create gum recycling bins to turn gum into all manner of new things but also have a mini portable version that anyone can use to send gum back to them for recycling (it’s very cool). If you still want or need to chew regular gum these guys are your best bet.
However, if you’re not so hot on regular gum anymore, you should check out Chicza (USA website here), a natural gum coming from those Mayan chicle gum practices I mentioned earlier. Chicza is 100% natural and organically certified; it’s also sustainably harvested from the chicozapote tree in the Mayan forest and produced by a consortium of cooperatives under a fair trade scheme. And you know what else? It’s biodegradable! You can read their entire process on their website, which is a transparency level I love. They have mint, lime, mixed berry and cinnamon flavours, so just because they’re a natural gum doesn’t mean it tastes like you’re chewing a bit of tree. If you live in England, you can pick this gum up in Waitrose. That’s right, WAITROSE. That’s not exotic (I mean it’s a bit fancy but they are everywhere). It’s not even HARD to get hold of this gum. I just, I can’t even. I don’t even chew and I’m so happy about how easy this solution is. If you have some serial chewers in your life you should get them this gum.
And hey, if you aren’t able to get hold of Chicza there are other easy, natural solutions you can go for. Chewing cloves, fennel seeds, cardamom pods or mint leaves are great natural breath fresheners whilst still being super cheap.
Whoever you are I’m convinced there’s a green gum solution out there for you, so maybe lets keep those synthetics in the tyre factory and go for an alternative instead.