Biodegradable chewing gum – the solution to chewing gum pollution?

  • Date: May 14, 2022

Whatever the reason you chew gum – to help you lose weight or just out of habit – the way you dispose of it is really, really important! Chewing gum contains plastic (believe it or not) and, as a result, persists long after we are gone. Whether it is stuck to pavements or waterways, chewing gum pollution is a huge problem. Is biodegradable chewing gum the answer?

What is chewing gum made of?

Chewing gum, in some form, has been around as human have. Although the first commercial gum went on sale in the late 1840’s, it isn’t a recent invention. People have been chewing on natural materials since the beginning of time.Treeby-products were popular back in the day. The popular choice for the ancient Greeks was resin from the mastic tree whilst ancient Mayas opted for a gum-like, rubbery material from the sapodilla tree. Yum.

The ingredients of modern stuff we all know and love (?) differs from brand to brand. Although, they stick (pardon the pun) to the same general formula. They usually all contain a gum base, as well as artificial sweeteners and flavoring

From an environmental viewpoint, we are most interested in the gum base part. This generally contains a mixture of both artificial and natural materials. This is where the plastic comes in – some brands list ingredients such as polyethylene and polyvinyl acetate. Polyethylene is the most used plastic in the world whilst you will most likely know polyvinyl acetate for its use in glues. If anyone needs a wake-up call to stop swallowing gum, let this be it…

Is chewing gum biodegradable?

If something is biodegradable it means that it can be broken down naturally by microbes.  Since most chewing gum contains an element of plastic it will not biodegrade – plastic is not biodegradable.  Although it does break into smaller pieces, it never actually decomposes fully. Every piece of gum that is ever been chewed will still be in the environment. Whether it is floating in the sea, stuck to a sidewalk or in an unsuspecting animals stomach, it will be out there somewhere.

Chewing gum pollution

According to the organization Just One Ocean, an incredible 374 billion pieces of chewing gum have been chewed. This equates to around 100,000 tonnes of chewy plastic. Persisting in landfill is not ideal, but most used gum does not even make it there. An estimated 80-90% of gum is not disposed of properly – more than 90% of the paving stones on UK sidewalks have at least one bit of gum stuck to them. As well as the environmental impact it has economic impact too. It costs up to $3 to remove a single piece!

Animals often mistake chewing gum for food. As well as ingredients being toxic to some animals, chewing gum can also cause digestive system blockages or even choking.

Can you recycle chewing gum?

Chewing gum will, more than likely, not be accepted by your local recycling center. Recycling rules do vary from region to region. However, generally, clogging up machines and contaminating the other items means that recycling chewing gum is a big no-no.

Luckily a UK-based company called Gumdrop have come to the rescue! They produce and distribute bright pink recycling bins which are specifically for chewed gum. When full, the bin is collected, and they recycle the contents into new products including Gumdrop bins! And the cycle continues. Although, this is wonderful idea, it has to be questioned if people will actually go out their way to use them when they struggle to even put chewed gum in the trash. But, Gumdrop have thought of this – they have produced a Gumdrop-On-The-Go, a small version for your handbag. No excuses now!

Biodegradable chewing gum brands

Over the last couple of years, several different natural chewing gum brands have been established. Whilst recycling with Gumdrop is an option, biodegradable brands provide a more natural product that prevents extra plastic needing to be recycled to start with. Here are some to look out for.

(Marco Verch – Flickr)

From their humble roots the founders home kitchens in Denmark, True Gum was born.  They have extended their offerings to mints and cough drops. As well as containing natural ingredients, their packaging is also compostable too. An ecofriendly gum experience all round – what’s not to like?

U.K based brand Chewsy wanted to ditch the chemical laden conventional gum options. They strive to offer ‘bold and delicious flavors’. Cinnamon and lemon are our favorites – check them out!    

If you are U.S based, Glee Gum is our favorite natural gum. It is made from tree sap, chicle, and comes in nine flavors – from traditional peppermint to watermelon. But they don’t just make great gum – they also offer do-it-yourself candy kits. A fun, tasty way to start the conversation with your little ones about the environment!

The bottom line

People like chewing gum. Whether for the perceived health benefits or as a breath freshener, demand is as high as ever. Although local laws have reduced the amount of chewing gum being discarded on the streets, it still presents a significant pollution problem. Natural, plastic-free gum that will not live on longer than the chewer is one way to reduce this pollution. And luckily, lots of brands are being established to form part of the solution. Give them a go.