Is Gum Biodegradable? See 4 Concerns & Hope for this Planet!
Bubble gum or chewing gum, whatever you call it, tends to focus on whether is gum biodegradable or not. As when you chew it, you constantly chew, chew, and just chew… It neither melts nor breaks down in your mouth. So, what do you think, after spitting it out? It will break down, even after dumping or incineration, right? Maybe or maybe not. But this is a point to ponder.
Although chewing gum is a go-to candy for everyone and can prevent nausea while traveling or let you cope with pressure. But because of a synthetic polymer, it’s more bad for the environment than good from a health perspective. However, a question may arise here, if it’s not biodegradable, so how much waste is it producing?
Let’s calm you down! In this guide, you can clarify whether is gum biodegradable or not. And if not, then what are the after-effects our environment has to face? To know about this, stay tuned and continue to read.
A Brief History of Chewing Gum
Since the 20th century, chewing gum has been developed and used mostly for the sake of pleasure, being an old tradition that’s continued for years.
In ancient Europeans, it was a trend to chew birch bark just to relish their hearts as well as for pain relief. Whereas, North America’s Indigenous communities chewed spruce tree resin. Moreover, the ancient Aztecs and Mayans of Central and South America consumed chicle – a substance derived from the sapodilla tree.
It can be wondered that the first genre of modern chewing gum was developed by Thomas Adams in 1871 by importing chicle from Mesoamerican trees of Mexico. There is an appealing fact behind it. Thomas had received a chicle from a former Mexico’s president – Antonio López de Santa Anna, who was driven out in New York.
Let’s Dissect the Bubble Gum!
Before moving towards debating on – is gum biodegradable, it’s necessary to figure out its ingredients that help to solve this issue.
As chicle became less available and more expensive, gum manufacturers looked for new ingredients that would provide consumers with a long-lasting, satisfying chew.
By the mid-1900s during World War II, they had turned to paraffin wax and petroleum-based materials. Mostly, they relied on plastics, waxes, and synthetic rubber.
Thus, the chewing gum gets elasticity and takes a long time to chew. In a result, gum can be chewed almost forever without breaking down.
Chewing Gum in the Current Scenario
Modern chewing gum is made up of four groups of ingredients that give gum its distinctive flavor, texture, and bounce:
- Fillers, such as talc and calcium carbonate, bulk out the gum and give it satisfying heft.
- Polymers give gum their stretch. These are polymers such as xylitol, polyvinyl acetate, etc., along with other materials that make up the “gum base.”
- Emulsifiers are chemicals that help mix flavors and colors and reduce stickiness.
- Softeners, such as vegetable oil, are added to the gum base to keep it chewy rather than stiff.
Apart from these groups, there are several natural and artificial flavors added in bubble gums to give particular and distinct flavors. For instance, fruit essence, spearmint oil, etc. Moreover, some antioxidants and glycerol helps to keep chewing gum fresh for longer. Whereas, sweeteners give appetizing tastes to gum.
How Chewing Gum Impacts the Environment
The production and disposal of chewing gum create a range of environmental consequences that may seem trivial but add up to a significant problem. Such as;
Many of the ingredients in chewing gum are made from petroleum, a fossil fuel. The extraction of petroleum is a major environmental issue as it contributes to water pollution, air pollution, and damage to land. The processing of petroleum products is another significant source of pollution.
Transportation of fossil fuels and other chemicals involves shipping and trucking, both of which contribute to air pollution and climate change. This can be a major concern if it remains unresolved because it can help you to determine – is gum biodegradable.
According to a report, 80-90% of chewed gum is disposed of improperly; most is dropped on the ground or stuck onto a surface. This means that thousands of pounds of gum are entering the litter stream every year.
4. Impact on animals
Gum is often eaten by land and aquatic animals (birds, rodents, fish, etc.) that mistake it for food. In some cases, the gum contains toxins including phthalates dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), which can have harmful effects. Also, if ingested, xylitol-containing gum products can cause pets to become very sick.
Is Gum Biodegradable?
Typical modern chewing gum includes plastics and is, therefore, not fully biodegradable. Evidence of this can be seen on sidewalks, desks, and streets, where blackened wads of gum remain almost unchanged for years. No one knows exactly how long the plastic in gum takes to biodegrade but, for example, butyl rubber polymer, often used in gum, is also used to make rubber tires. So, have you got the answer of – is gum biodegradable?
How much time is required to decompose chewing gum?
If you think about is gum biodegradable or not, you may consider its decomposition. But how long it takes for this process may be daunting.
Though there has yet to be in-depth research on chewing gum’s rate of decomposition, it’s commonly agreed that chewing gum can take anywhere from 5 to 1,000 years to decompose 😱. This estimate comes from our current understanding of synthetic plastic and rubber.
How Chewing Gum Decompose
Bacteria and living organisms cannot break down these materials (rubber and plastic). The only things that can break them down are sheer brute force and UV light from the sun. These forces cause the rubber and plastic to disintegrate over several, if not hundreds of, years into microplastic fragments.
Is Decomposition of Chewing Gum Favorable?
As the decomposition of chewing gum takes a long time, so this is the main reason why researchers have started looking into other uses for chewing gum waste. Instead of waiting for chewing gum to decompose and pollute the environment, they’re experimenting with recycling solutions to give chewing gum a new life.
A Great Initiative of Pink Gumdrop at Wandsworth
In 2009, Anna Bullus – a British product designer – founded Gumdrop Ltd in Wandsworth. As per the company’s vision, Gumdrop is designed as the world’s first bin that’s not only specific for the disposal of waste chewing gum, but is also made with waste chewing gum.
Gumdrop houses a closed loop recycling process designed to both educate and inspire the public to give gum a second life. Once the Gumdrop is full, the whole Gumdrop along with its contents of waste is recycled and three new Gumdrops are created, this cycle will then be repeated.
According to Gumdrop, it costs councils £150 million pounds a year to remove chewing gum litter from our streets in the UK. Moreover, the company is saving around half a million pounds a year on cleaning bills and has proven to reduce gum litter by 46% in the first 12 weeks of use.
So, it’s a HOPE for this planet with Gumdrop that it can be cleaned from unwanted mess of chewing gum in a handsome way.
Switch to Plant-Based Chewing Gum
Current chewing gums, now available in various flavors, are made from petroleum-based polymers that merge with the gum and make it difficult to remove from any kind of surface.
With regard to the environmental impact, when chewing gum was patented and placed on the market in 1866, the principal ingredient of the new product was Mexican chicle, the natural gum extracted from the plant of the same name.
Multinational manufacturers very soon replaced the natural gum with artificial mixtures derived from petrol, as is still the case now a days. These ingredients mean that chewing gum is only partially biodegradable, and takes a very long time to break down, at least five years. Thus, now your point would be clear out that is gum biodegradable. Right?
See an Alter of Synthetic Chewing Gum
There is chewing gum on sale in Europe that is completely biodegradable, plant-based, and does not contain aspartame. It is based on glucose, gum, and completely organic flavors. The product is made, moreover, with organic blue agave syrup.
The analyses carried out on the sticks of gum have shown that, pursuant to Regulation (EC) No 41/2009, they do not contain gluten (equal to ‹1.5); the quantity of lactose present is also negligible (‹ 0.010).
Key Benefits of this Organic Gum
✔️ The composition of this gum is the ease with which it biodegrades, since during disposal the ingredients, which are all natural, will break down within a few weeks.
✔️ The organic gum, as well as being biodegradable, is water-soluble and non-adhesive.
✔️ In addition to these environmental benefits, there are the financial benefits in terms of savings on waste disposal.
Get some other Solutions too…
In recent times, there are various companies that create less toxic and 100% biodegradable chewing gum. Because they use the same ancient manufacturing method with natural chicles from Central America rainforests. Among such companies, Chewsy, Chizca, Glee Gum, and Simply Gum are very popular names. They claim to decompose their chewing gum within two weeks.
However, if you’re still consuming chewing gum of leading brands, i.e., Chiclets, Trident, Wrigely, etc., then firstly, you’ve to stop buying it. Otherwise, wrap it out and dispose of it carefully in a bin. This will keep all the sidewalks and roads clean from this mess.
Whether you are used to chewing gum or not, you will surely experience it. Although it grants an appealing sensation while chewing, there are a number of concerns associated. Among one of the bigger concerns, is gum biodegradable or not. So, there are mixed opinions. Basically, it’s not biodegradable due to its composition. Somehow it can biodegrade. But this process takes hundreds to thousands of years.
Thus, researchers favor recycling of chewing gum rather than its biodegradation. And this way, they’re successful in producing various useful products like rubber tires, Gumdrop, etc. Overall, chewing gum has various concerns but still there is always a ray of hope behind any downside.