UK councils call for industry funds to tackle gum litter ‘plague’

By Oliver Nieburg contact

- Last updated on GMT

Wrigley says education rather than funds for cleanup costs is the best solution. Photo: LGA
Wrigley says education rather than funds for cleanup costs is the best solution. Photo: LGA
The Local Government Association (LGA) is urging the chewing gum industry to contribute towards cleanup costs and encourages manufacturers to explore biodegradable gum bases.

The body – which represents around 370 councils in England and Wales – says the industry should contribute to the £60m ($76m) annual gum removal cost to councils.

Awareness campaigns not enough alone: LGA

LGA environment spokesperson Cllr Judith Blake said: “While awareness campaigns the industry is involved in have some value, they are not enough by themselves. The industry needs to go a lot further, faster, in tackling this issue.”

LGA says Chelmsford Council spends £68,000 ($85,000) each year to remove chewing gum and says more than 600 pieces of trodden-in chewing gum have been circled with chalk in Sutton High Street to highlight the scale of the problem.

“Chewing gum is a plague on our pavements. It’s ugly, it’s unsightly and it’s unacceptable,”​ said Blake.

She added that councils were under no legal obligation to clear up the gum and said councils hope to work with industry to resolve the issue.

Wrigley focused on behavioral change

A Wrigley spokesperson told ConfectioneryNews long-term behavioral change was its preferred route to tackle gum litter.

Wrigley’s dominance in UK gum

ExtraGum - source wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia

Wrigley held an 89% value share of the UK gum market in 2016 due to the strength of its Extra brand, according to Euromonitor International. 

“Stopping people from littering is the solution to this problem, not cleaning up after them, and we will continue to invest in programs under our three distinct pillars of education in schools, behaviour change and responsible disposal to drive that long-term change.”  

The spokesperson said Wrigley’s efforts are focused on empirical research to understand why people drop gum and how this behavior can be influenced rather than contributing to clean-up costs.

Wrigley has committed to reaching a further 100,000 students with its schools anti-litter campaign by the end of 2020.

Biodegradable switch

LGA also urged the industry to switch to biodegradable gum or gum that does not require special equipment to remove.

“Conventional chewing gum is not biodegradable and councils have to use specialist equipment to remove it, which is both time-consuming and very expensive,” ​said Blake.

Wrigley’s spokesperson said the company may explore new ingredients and technologies, but reiterated its focus was on influencing behavioral change.

“There are challenges in an R&D led solution to littered chewing gum and, due to commercial sensitivities, we are unable to comment further on the potential progression or application of technologies under review at this time.

"Whilst we will continue to explore this, our focus will remain on educational programs as the only long-term solution to deliver behavior change and reduce littered gum," ​they said.

Gum base alternatives

gum on show litter -turk_stock_photographer
©iStock/turk_stock_photographer

Chewing gum bases are typically made from food-grade polymers, waxes and softeners, which do not biodegrade and require specialist equipment to remove from pavements.

Some companies and research organizations have explored degradable alternatives, but these have yet to be utilized by the major gum firms.

Revolymer developed a synthetic polymer chewing gum base around 10 years ago named Rev7, which it claims degrades over two to three months in drains and in less than two years on pavements.

The company launched its own finished goods chewing gum brand – also named Rev7 – with the polymer in the US and the UK in 2011, but it has since pulled the product.

Revolymer remains open to licensing its Rev7 technology, but says there has not been uptake from the major gum firms, which have preferred to focus on education to address gum litter.

Research group TNO collaborated​ with the Foundation NederlandSchoon in 2012 on a project to make chewing gum less sticky and easily degradable – but the project was abandoned and did not yield a commercially-viable solution.

Researchers from University College Cork, Ireland, patented a process​ for a non-sticky, biodegradable gum that uses cereal proteins 2011.

We have contacted the University for an Update on the technology and are awaiting a response.

Attitude shift

INCPEN, an industry-funded research group on packaging and the environment agreed that public attitudes needed to change rather than gum bases or the types of packaging.

“INCPEN believes the only way to prevent littering is to stop people littering,”​ INCPEN spokesperson Jane Bickerstaffe told this site.

“Other suggestions like using biodegradable materials are pointless. Paper is biodegradable, glass is inert. Both are objectionable if littered. Dog feces are very degradable but you don’t want them on the pavement!”

Mondelēz did not respond to our request for comment.

Related topics: Gum, Mars, Regulation & Safety

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