Most people don’t realise that chewing gum contains plastic.
But we’re not talking about the wrapper or the fancy plastic packaging that many brands use these days.
We’re talking about the chewing gum itself.
So, what do we need to know about the plastic in chewing gum?
Is it adding to the global plastic pollution problem?
And most importantly, what is the alternative if we don’t want to kick the gum habit?
Let’s find out.
What is chewing gum made from?
Looking at the list of ingredients on the packet of your favourite brand of chewing gum usually won’t be much help when it comes to finding out exactly what’s inside.
That’s because, a) the industry wants to keep the ingredients secret and, b) there isn’t currently a legal obligation for them to disclose what they put inside.
Most brands will simply say ‘gum base’ on the ingredients label.
Before the 1950s, this gum base was natural tree sap called chicle (a natural rubber) and sometimes natural wax.
However, as popularity grew, manufacturers turned to synthetic rubbers to meet the growing demand.
These days, gum base is usually made from one of the following:
- Butadiene-styrene rubber
- Isobutylene-isoprene copolymer (butyl rubber)
- Paraffin (via the Fischer-Tropsch process)
- Petroleum wax
- Polyvinyl acetate
Polyvinyl acetate (used in PVA glue) and polyethylene (used in plastic bags) tend to be the manufacturers’ favourites.
To this, they usually add sweeteners, sugars, softeners, bulking agents and flavours to produce the chewing gum you’ll find on the shelves of your local corner shop.
Where goes chewing gum go when we dispose of it?
As you’ve just found out, chewing gum is made of pretty much the same thing as car tyres or glue.
This means that when you’ve finished chewing and spat it out somewhere, it will meet the same fate as all other plastics on the planet.
It won’t decompose but will hang around in the environment for decades, centuries or potentially forever.
When we review the figures and consider what could have happened with all of the chewing gum that has been disposed of since synthetic rubber-based gum was first introduced in the 1960s, things get scary.
According to UK-based plastic pollution charity, Just One Ocean, we get through 374 trillion sticks of gums each ear with an estimated weight of 100,000 tonnes.
That’s just for one year.
Imagine how many tonnes of plastic pollution have been thrown into the environment over the last 50 years…
Whether chewing gum is contributing to plastic pollution in the oceans and ending up in the bellies of marine animals too isn’t clear but given the data, it seems likely.
If that wasn’t enough, many people just spit out their chewing gum wherever they are (or disgustingly stick it to the underside of public tables).
This nasty, sticky, half-chewed plastic waste fills our pavements and public spaces and causes huge headaches for local authorities and the poor people who step in the stuff.
UK-based independent environmental charity, Keep Britain Tidy suggest that 95% of the UK’s main shopping streets are covered with discarded gum.
Plastic-free and natural chewing gum
Given all this information, you might be considering giving up the chewing gum altogether.
But if you can’t do it yet, there is a better option.
These days you can find several brands of plastic-free chewing gum online and on your high street.
Best of all, they’re not just plastic free, but often organic, vegan and free from added nasties like artificial sweeteners, flavourings, preservatives and synthetic ingredients.
Here are our favourites.
Chewsy is a bestselling, 100% biodegradable, plastic-free chewing gum that is made right here in the UK using a natural chicle gum base.
Free from sugar, artificial flavours (including aspartame), artificial flavours and preservatives, gluten free, soy-free, non-GMO and completely vegan, it’s better for the planet and for your health than regular chewing gum.
As their products are so popular, they do often sell out so make sure you grab yourself a pack whilst you can.
If you’re a fan of delicious chewing gum flavours, you’ll adore the plastic-free chewing gum that Glee Gum has to offer.
Free from artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners (including aspartame), preservatives and non-GMO, it comes in 11 mouth-watering flavours including peppermint, tangerine, cinnamon, bubble gum, spearmint, berry, lemon-lime, watermelon and wintergreen.
They even offer a ‘Make Your Own Chewing Gum Kit’ which would make an excellent gift for those creative types who love gum.
With beautiful packaging, stunning flavours and an eye on the environment, Simply Gum really stand out in the plastic-free chewing gum world.
Created using natural chicle base combined with organic raw cane sugar, organic vegetable glycerine, organic rice flour and natural flavourings, you’ll know that you’re giving your body a treat with this gum.
Their products are also free from artificial flavourings, synthetic ingredients and preservatives.
You can buy natural chewing gum by Simply Gum from your local branch of Iceland or via the Simply Gum website here.
Getting back to the roots of chewing gum, Chicza create 100% certified organic, biodegradable and sustainable chewing gum that has been harvested by living Chicozapote trees.
Containing a cleverly crafted blend of natural ingredients including evaporated cane juice, chicle, organic glucose, organic agave syrup and even organic flavours, they’re the brand that puts ethics above all else.
The flavour in the gum doesn’t last the longest time, but wouldn’t you rather have plastic-free and environmentally conscious over the alternative?
Even though regular chewing gum usually does contain plastic, there’s an ever-increasing amount of natural chewing gum available in the UK.
They taste great, they’re better for the environment and they’re often better for your body too.
Why not give them a try today?
Charlotte Witts is a writer and entrepreneur who wants to show you how easy it is to live a more conscious, zero-waste lifestyle. A confirmed yoga-addict, trail runner and ocean-lover, she currently lives in the Azores where she enjoys the simple pleasures in life.