Gum is one of those “foods” that seems like a handy solution to life’s many problems. Conventional wisdom tells you to chew it to stave off hunger, satisfy your sweet tooth with little to no calories (hence the line of dessert gum like lemon square flavor), help your ears pop on air planes, aid in studying and test performance, kick a smoking habit, mildly alleviate boredom, freshen your breath, keep you awake and help protect your teeth. Gum companies even have highly official websites telling you how great chewing gum is and that you should chew it because science. We love our gum, and its reputed powers verge on the level of mystical home remedies that are supposed to cure cancer. But what makes gum so great is also what makes it a nuisance to the environment.
The environmental impacts of gumThe biggest problem with gum is that it doesn’t biodegrade, pure and simple. Gum has an elastic, rubbery and durable texture for one obvious reason: it’s made from a synthetic rubber. That ingredient used to be a natural tree resin before World War II. So chewing gum is somewhat like chewing on a tire and then trying to spit that out into a garbage can, albeit a tire that tastes nice at first. To make gum even more unnatural, the base of most gum is made from synthetic polymers, like polyvinyl acetate, the stuff that’s in glue. No wonder your guardians didn’t want you to swallow it. And on top of gum not being biodegradable, we chew tons of it. Literally. 560,000 tons per year worldwide, to be exact. That comes out to $5 billion dollars in sales per year. 374 billion pieces of gum are sold each year, which comes out to 187 billion hours of chewing if each piece is chewed for 30 minutes:
- Gum is the second most common form of litter, right behind cigarette butts.
- Collecting and disposing of gum packaging costs more than 2 million dollars annually.
- Each year gum generates over 250,000 tons of waste.
- 92 percent of Britain urban paving stones have gum stuck to them.