The survey, carried out by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy and packaging group INCPEN, found that gum was by far the biggest culprit in dropped litter, accounting for over 78 per cent of discarded litter.
Representing a five-fold increase since 2004, chewing gum is the single most littered item. Packaging represented just 1.3 per cent and carrier bags, often cited as a major contributor to litter, represented only 0.03 per cent of the number of items.
“Industry is playing a major part in tackling the issue of gum litter. We believe that a fully integrated approach, encompassing education and greater enforcement of fines, is required to tackle this issue in an effective and sustainable manner," commented Barbara Gallani, manager of the Biscuit, Chocolate, Cake and Confectionery sector group at UK food industry group the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).
Environmentally-friendly gum bases
In a bid to get to grips with the soaring gum litter statistics, in 2003 UK government department Defra (department of environment, food and rural affairs), launched CGAG (chewing gum action group), a cross-industry, cross-governmental forum with the remit "to find an integrated, sustainable solution to the issue of gum litter".
Chaired by Defra, representatives include environmental and local government groups, as well as the chewing gum industry and UK food industry group the FDF.
Industry members include global gum players Wrigley, which last year merged with Mars to become the world’s number one confectionery company, and UK confectioner Cadbury, which recently launched its Trident brand onto the competitive UK gum marketplace.
According to the CGAG, industry "as a whole" is committed to the "systematic introduction of more environmentally friendly gum bases" in its gum formulations.
Manufacturers, say the group, are focusing on "developing a gum that is more degradable if irresponsibly disposed, with progress being made".
The litter survey
Keep Britain Tidy undertook the INCPEN litter survey between August and October 2008, contiguous with previous surveys in 2004 and 1996.
During the period, litter composition was recorded on 403 "carefully structured sample sites" with the survey honing in on "at least 30 sample sites drawn from the 12 standard land uses".
Chewing gum, say the surveyors, is counted in two ways: if gum is freshly dropped it is counted as ‘three-dimensional’ as this is still possible to remove relatively easily.
When gum becomes trodden down it is classified as a stain as it requires different and comparatively expensive techniques to remove it.