Q: I'm a gum fiend. I can't help it, I love the stuff. However, recently I started feeling guilty about my habit - is this stuff biodegradable, and is it really so bad to occasionally spit it out on the street?
A: When you compare it to, oh, say, driving an SUV with the air conditioning cranked, chewing a pack of gum isn't the worst thing you might be doing right now, but it certainly isn't helping matters. The answer to your first question is no, chewing gum isn't biodegradable. Maybe it was once upon a time, when manufacturers were still using the chewy natural latex of the tropical sapodilla tree known as chicle. But Wrigley modified its original recipe (corn syrup, sugar and chicle) back in 1996 to cut costs. Instead of importing the entirely natural, environmentally sound ingredient from Latin America, it opted for the man-made, petroleum-based variety of latex. And as a parliamentary report from England explains, man-made gum is not unlike other "rubber-based products such as tires, shock absorbers and some glues. They're stretchy and retain their properties under all weather conditions." Yum.
So throwing it on the ground is definitely a no-no, despite wishful thinking that it just blends harmlessly into the pavement over time. With so many of us chewing the stuff (the gum biz is a $300-million industry in Canada), growing deposits of blue and pink wads are a major problem. In fact, the Yonge Street Business Improvement Area spends $45,000 a year on pressure-washing sidewalks to clear them of the sticky nuisance. It's becoming such a problem that the city is entertaining the idea of installing gum receptacles.
Across the pond, those Brits have wound their knickers into such a knot over this one that they're considering taxing the chewables or restricting their sale in heavily gummed areas.
Besides the sticky-footed litter factor, there's the issue of all the packaging waste. Most gum comes wrapped in non-recyclable plastic and foil that inevitably end up in landfill. Some manufacturers say they're investigating environmentally friendly packaging alternatives (as well as new biodegradable gum bases), but so far none has hit the market.
If you're ready to ditch your mainstream brand of choice and all the sugar or aspartame that come with every bite, there are a few natural choices out there. XyliChew is sweetened with Xylitol, a birch-tree-based sweetener that has actually been found to reduce cavities and plaque. Plus, it's still made with latex from the sapodilla tree. It's available at Whole Foods on Avenue Road for $2.99 for 12 pieces.
Twigs from the peelu (araak) tree have been used for centuries to clean teeth in Asia and the Middle East. In Peelu Dental Chewing Gum (at Noah's on Bloor, Karma Co-op in the Annex and Whole Foods for $1.80 to $4.29 for a pack of 20), the naturally abrasive peelu fibres fight plaque and bad breath, and the gum is sweetened with sorbitol (a sugar alcohol). Plus, it comes in multiple flavours.
Don't want to fork out the cash for natural gum? Get back to basics by chewing on a clove.
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