It seems like people can’t get enough of this chewy and often flavorful sugar stick. It’s been estimated that 374 BILLION pieces of gum are sold worldwide every year. Assuming 30 minutes of chewing for each piece, that’s a collective 187 billion hours of chewing every year.
With a market value of $5 billion in the United States alone, it’s clear that gum is here to stay.
But is that actually a good thing?
If you’ve ever wondered what happens to gum that’s been tossed on the ground without a second thought or wondered what exactly you are chewing on, then this is the post for you.
Is Gum Biodegradable? The Sticky Truth Revealed.
So, let’s address the million-dollar question.
1. Is Gum Actually Biodegradable?
The short answer is NO. The long answer is a little more interesting.
Gum is definitely not considered biodegradable. In fact, it can take a very, very long time for gum to fully break down.
The problem with gum is that it’s made from a host of synthetic plastics and rubbers.
Yes, your gum contains plastic. You are chewing on rubber, plastic, sweeteners, and water-absorbent powder (which is potentially concerning health-wise).
Here are some of the polymers that your gum probably contains:
- Butadiene-styrene rubber
- Isobutylene-isoprene copolymer (butyl rubber)
- Paraffin (via the Fischer-Tropsch process)
- Petroleum wax
- Petroleum wax synthetic
- Polyisobutylene polyvinyl acetate
As you may or may not already know, it can take 450 years for plastic water bottles to decompose and up to 1,000 years for plastic bags. Plastic just takes forever to fully biodegrade.
The materials found in the chewing gum are no different. While nobody knows for certain how long it takes for gum to fully decompose, it’s generally safe to assume that it could take at least 500 years.
So when you pass by that piece of gum on the street, you’ll now know that it could stay there 15-25 generations later.
Kind of crazy to think about, huh?
2. Is Gum Really That Bad For The Environment?
Yes, your gum is actually pretty terrible for the environment. This is thanks to three key things:
- How easy it is to throw away.
- How long it lasts in an environment.
- The design of the gum itself.
Here’s a (not so) fun fact! 100,000 tons of litter is caused by improperly disposed of gum. That number doesn’t take any other litter into account; it’s all just gum.
It’s the second BIGGEST source of global waste, only beaten by cigarette butts. 80-90% of all chewed gum is used to litter our sidewalks, walls, desks, playgrounds, forests, beaches, and so much more.
Not only does it make schools and cities look grubby (and who doesn’t just love to step on it), but it also has a pretty awful effect on the environment.
Like mentioned earlier, gum may last centuries. That’s plenty of time for animals and fish to get a piece of that gum, which presents a whole new set of problems.
First, the gum can just outright kill an unsuspecting animal. If too much gum is consumed at once, it’s possible for internal blockages to screw up an animal’s insides and even prevent it from eating/drinking anything. It wasn’t designed for birds or squirrels to eat, after all.
Second, the survivors who continue to eat gum will have those synthetic polymers accumulate over time. These will eventually become toxins, which can cause additional health problems for the survivors.
Finally, we are going to indirectly suffer too! That’s because when we eat animals and fish, those toxins are reintroduced into our bodies.
What goes around, comes around.
Gum litter can be a big problem. It was so bad that Singapore banned the sale of chewing gum in 1992. That’s how much it negatively impacted the cities, towns, environments, and people.
And if you are curious, it costs the UK £56 million to clean it all up every year. That’s money that falls on the taxpayer.
3. Does Biodegradable Gum Exist?
Yes, it does.
Thankfully, there are a few options out there for people who are looking to switch to biodegradable gum.
Simply Gum is a company that was sickened by the thought of chewing on the same plastics found in car tires, plastic bottles, and white glue.
They created a gum that only contains only vegetable glycerine, raw sugar, organic rice flour, and natural flavoring.
Chicza is a company that harvests their gum from Chicozapote trees, which naturally and continuously produce gum for 300 years.
Their gum is made of organic evaporated cane juice, organic gum base (100% Chicle), organic glucose, organic agave syrup, and organic flavor.
Glee Gum originally did not serve biodegradable gum, but they recently made the switch to having a plastic-free gum base.
The base is now made of chicle, calcium carbonate, candelilla (plant) wax, and citrus peels. They also serve their gum in biodegradable packaging. Score!
Now, a quick disclaimer: all-natural, biodegradable gum is not going to have the same texture as traditional gum, nor is it going to last as long (obviously). But if you are looking to get your gum fix in and want to do better for the environment, these are all excellent alternatives.
4. Can Gum Be Recycled?
Gum can absolutely be recycled, though not the way you might be thinking.
Even though it’s made from plastics and rubbers, you can’t just toss your gum into your recycling bin and call it a day. No, that’s just going to cause problems for everyone.
If you want to recycle your gum correctly, you’ll need to go through some specialized services. There are two main companies that will take your chewed up gum:
Gumdrop is a company that will let you set up their gum disposal bins anywhere you are allowed to put them. This is great for encouraging other people to properly dispose of their gum. You can use their bins for personal usage too.
Once the disposal bin is filled up, you send it back to them. They recycle this gum and use it to make new products like cups, pencils, and more.
However, this program is primarily for people living in the UK. If you don’t live there, then you can purchase a portable disposal bin instead. Once it’s full, you can print out a free shipping label and send it back to them. If you do so, you get a discount on your next portable disposal bin.
TerraCycle is a company that specializes in recycling almost any type of waste, gum included. Their bins come in vastly different sizes and can hold plenty of gum. Like Gumdrop, you can send a full bin back to them using their shipping label.
But unlike Gumdrop, you can purchase and use these bins no matter where you live.
The only problem here is cost. Most people aren’t too thrilled about spending money, especially on something like recycling gum.
Gumdrop is the more affordable option if you are looking at getting the portable disposal bin. Otherwise, your options are limited if you don’t live in the UK. Great for people just starting out – $20.98.
TerraCycle’s bins are much larger and varied. They are also more expensive, but they’ll last much longer than a Gumdrop bin will. These bins are also far more accessible. Great for people who are serious about recycling gum – $102.00.
All in all, it’s clear that traditional gum sucks for the environment. Luckily, there are some companies that are doing something about it.
Whether it’s choosing biodegradable gum or recycling the gum you just can’t live without, you’ll be making a choice the help both the environment and yourself.
Just make sure to keep gum off of the ground. Our Earth the only one we’ve got! It’s up to us to take good care of it.
Questions, comments, concerns, or just wanna chat? Leave a comment below and we’ll get right back to you. We’d love to hear from you all.
If you like this article, you might be interested in the ones below:
- Is Paper Biodegradable? The Answer May Surprise You…
- Is Latex Biodegradable? What You Need To Know.
- Is Cardboard Biodegradable? Everything You Need To Know.
- Is Glass Biodegradable? The Answer is Definitely Surprising.
- Is “It” Biodegradable? Easy Cheat Sheet for Popular Products
As always, thanks for reading! We appreciate you stopping by!
Let’s continue to strive for a greener, better way of living!