The people who clean up public floors and surfaces worldwide are getting fed up with trying to scrape up chewing gum. Pressure is mounting on gum makers to invent non-sticky gum. In China, discarded gum is a menace in Tiananmen Square. Chinese authorities are trying to develop a chemical strong enough to dissolve the gum. In Singapore, the chewing gum ban of 1991 is still in place, except for those who need to chew for medical reasons. In the U.K., local governments want to tax chewing gum to pay for the cost of removing it. Cigarettes are already taxed in many countries, in order to pay for the health problems they cause. One official says, “It’s a serious filth that threatens the environment. We have 3,000 litter bins in Westminster, but people choose to drop their gum on the pavement instead of putting it in the wrapper. We spend a great deal of money removing it, which would be better spent on other services. We need a massive behavioral change to stop this problem.”
Food development expert Professor Martin Chaplin says it’s possible to make a less sticky gum, which could be more easily removed. But he’s afraid customers might not like it, so manufacturers wouldn’t make it. “Stickiness is part of its appeal,” he says. Instead, he thinks gum should be biodegradable, so it will eventually clean itself up.
Amy Chezem, of the U.S. Association of Chewing Gum Manufacturers, says, “A lot of manufacturers are researching how to tackle the problem. Some advances have been made, but I think the prospect of a biodegradable gum is some way off. We are trying though.”
Ginette Unsworth, of environmental campaign group Encams, says there’s only one solution: “That is to stigmatize it so much that people will feel uncomfortable dropping it.” Hey, it worked with cigarettes!
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