Chewing Gum And The Environment

Chewing gum? You could well be chewing fossil fuel. 

I was reading an article concerning the old myth (for the most part) about swallowing chewing gum leading to all sorts of dire health consequences.

Myth it may be, what caught my attention was the primary ingredients of chewing gum these days:

Butyl rubber and polyisobutylene.

Neither sound particularly appetizing – both of these (and the latter is a derivative of the former) are made from fossil fuel. I had totally forgotten about gum’s crude oil connection.

I’ve chewed plenty of gum over the years, particularly when I was trying to quit smoking – around 100 pieces of nicotine gum a week (that didn’t work, but ecigarettes did). I wound up hooked on nicotine gum as well as smoking. Over the year or so of that episode, I probably chewed around 5,000 pieces. I often berated myself for the cost, but I certainly didn’t think about environmental impact of it all.

The problem with chewing and bubble gum aside from the fact it sticks to just about everything is it takes so long to break down – I’ve seen 5 years bandied about on the web. Others say it doesn’t biodegrade, but like many plastics, just breaks down into smaller pieces over time.

Chewing gum waste is everywhere – I don’t think there would be too many urban dwellers who may not have chewed a piece in their life, but didn’t end up with a glob of the gunk stuck to the bottom of their shoes at some stage.

Chewing gum pollution became so bad in Singapore, the country totally banned it in 1992; although twelve years later the ban was reversed, but for therapeutic purposes only. 

Back in 2006, the chewing gum industry cranked out 1.3 million tonnes of the stuff globally and signs were the volume would increase. I had no idea gum was such a big business.

Humans can’t digest the stuff – and neither can anything else. 

It’s these little things we don’t give much thought to that can significantly add to our collective environmental footprint.

Chewing and bubble may have some benefits; but perhaps we don’t need to be consuming as much of it as we do. I’m sure some local governments (who foot the bill of chewing gum pollution) would heartily agree.

There is some good news – there are more natural products around. Back in 2009 I wrote about natural, organic chewing gum and I believe a few other brands have become available since then.

Tip: the only responsible method of gum disposal is wrapping it up in some other waste and putting it out with your trash. While it ending up in landfill isn’t ideal, it certainly should not be flushed down the toilet or thrown into waterways (or anywhere else).