Why Chewing Gum is a Stickier Mess Than You Realize

May 27, 2019  •   4 min read


 

Chewing gum has been around for centuries, an ancient practice that was not akin to only one area in the world. Some northern Europeans were chewing birch bar tar 9,000 years ago, the Greeks chewed mastiche, the ancient Mayans chewed chicle from the sapodilla tree, and Native Americans chewed spruce tree resin. Many of these resin chewing practices were based in medicinal science, as they relieved toothaches, quenched thirst, fought hunger, and cleaned teeth. (history.com)

 

The chewing gum that we all know today is a far cry from the natural resins and substances used in antiquated times. Over the years, commercialized chewing gum was tested, improved, changed, and added to, in order to create a substance that was flavourful, not too sticky, long-lasting, and cheap to produce. As the gum developed, it resembled less of a natural product, and began taking the shape of something manufactured entirely. So, why is chewing gum a stickier mess than we realize?

 

Conventional chewing gum is not only wrapped in plastic, but it is made of plastic too! After WWII, chemists learned how to make synthetic rubber or polyethylene, polyisobutylene and polyvinyl acetate. These substances are all derived from crude oil and fossil fuels. Good Year, the tire company, manufactures the base for most of the big gum brands, which is saying something…yikes!

 

Some chewing gum lists their ingredients as “gum base” which can mean it may contain all or some of the following synthetic additives: polyisobutylene, petroleum, lanolin, glycerin, polyethylene, polyvinyl acetate, petroleum wax, latex or stearic acid (Vegetarian Resource Group). Manufactures are not required to list everything in their product, and some manufacturers even use adhesive “dercolytes” which is a substance used as a label and tape adhesive…

 

So while we’re busy “freshening” our breath, we’re really rolling around a giant wad of plastic in our mouth..yum?

 

Not only is this not great for us and our health (I mean we’ve ALL swallowed a piece of gum once in our lives, and most gum contains aspartame which is just, no), what about the earth? We flush, spit, and stick gum all over the place, meaning these little wads of plastic are literally everywhere on earth. This manufactured substance is definitely not biodegradable, and in fact, chewing gum is currently the second most common form of litter after cigarette butts! Chewing gum is hard to remove because it is highly resistant to aggressive chemicals, and it isn’t affected by changes in weather. An estimated 92% of Britain’s urban paving stones have gum stuck to them, and the disposal and collection of gum packaging at landfills costs more than $2 million annually. When gum makes its way into the world outside of our mouths, wildlife ends up consuming it as well. Birds and fish have been found with gum in them, which is then reintroduced into the food chain when we consume the fish – a sticky mess for sure.

 

What can we do? Breaking our rather unattractive habit of chewing on something can be a bit difficult, but if it’s possible, that’s definitely the route we recommend. Herbs and natural substances are the second best option. An Ayurvedic practice is to chew natural clove sticks (my dad used to do this all the time on long flights!)

 

If gum is the way for you, here are some plastic-free alternatives:

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Simply Gum

Their packaging is plastic-free, the gum is plastic-free, and their products are all free of artificial flavours, preservatives and synthetics. Their gum is made from natural chicle base, organic raw cane sugar, organic non-GMO vegetable glycerin, organic rice flour, and all-natural flavour.

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Chicza

The only 100% natural, certified organic, fully biodegradable, and sustainable chewing gum right now. Coming from the Mayan rainforest, the gum is derived from the living Chicozapote tree. Creating zigzag cuts in the tree, the sap trickles down to be collected, rendering around 3 to 5kg of sap per harvest per tree. The tree is then left to rest for 6-7 years before the next harvest, ensuring the collection method is done as sustainably as possible. Chicza’s gum ingredient list is simple: 100% organic chicle, organic agave syrup, organic evaporated cane juice, organic glucose and organic flavour.

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Glee Gum

As of 2015, this brand has been able to change their original recipe to be 100% synthetics-free. Their gum is 100% natural, made from chicle, calcium carbonate, candelilla wax and a pinch of dehydrated citrus peels.

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