If you live anywhere near people and sidewalks, you’ve probably seen pieces of old chewing gum stuck to the pavement.

And whether you use chewing gum or not, it’s obvious that there’s a problem when 80% to 90% of chewing gum isn’t disposed of properly.

So, what the heck happens to that gum stuck on the road, and what might be its environmental impact?

Check out this infographic about gum and the environment, which shows exactly what happens to gum after you throw it on the ground.

You’ll also learn exactly why gum is harmful and bad for the environment.

Not-So-Green Gum: Is Chewing Sustainably a Reality?
Infographic by CustomMade

How is Chewing Gum (and Bubble Gum) Made?

All chewing gum is essentially made of some type of gum base, which gives the gum its chewy-ness and texture. Usually, a mixture of flavouring and colouring will also be added.

Traditionally, chewing gum base was made out of a material called chicle. Chicle is the latex sap that comes from the sapodilla tree in Central America. In simple terms, chicle (and gum) is just a form of rubber.

However, today’s gum isn’t made of out of natural materials like chicle anymore.

Instead, most gum today is made out of an artificial chicle-like material. This material is made out of synthetic plastics, made from petroleum and oil-based material.

For example:

One of the main polymers in chewing gum and bubble gum is butyl rubber. This is also known as polyisobutylene, and covered birds and marine wildlife after the BP oil spill.

How long does it take for Gum to Decompose?

Chewing gum is pretty much made out of plastic. And, as we all know, plastic can take a LONG TIME to decompose.

So, exactly how long will it take for gum to decompose?

Depending on the conditions, it could take hundreds of years for your piece of gum to decompose!

Worse yet, chewing gum is not biodegradable. This means that chewing gum can’t be recycled naturally. In fact, gum can’t be recycled at all. Instead, the synthetic plastics will always stay on Earth as plastic, even if it’s in microscopic quantities.

Is Chewing Gum Bad for the Environment?

The short answer is: Yes, most gum made out of synthetic material is harmful to the environment. 

As you’ve already learned, most gum that we buy is made from synthetic rubber, which is made from oil. When you chew gum, you are basically chewing plastic.

So, what happens when you throw your gum out?

Hopefully, you spit out your gum into a garbage can. This can help limit the negative impact of gum on the environment.

However, when gum gets littered, it becomes a huge problem for the environment:

What are the Effects of Littered Chewing Gum?

So, how does your gum-chewing habit affect the environment?

Well, gum becomes a big problem when it pollutes the environment and gets spit out on city streets. Chewing gum litter is a major problem.

In fact, gum is the second most common form of litter in the world, behind only cigarette butts. And, only around 10% to 20% of all chewing gum is disposed properly.

Chewing gum can be dangerous and toxic to any animal that consumes it. Animals like birds could mistake the gum for food, and get killed when they choke on gum or when it clogs up their digestive system.

And, not only does gum pollute streets, but it is extremely costly to clean up as well. In 2012, it cost the City of London between 16 cents and $3 to remove one piece of gum off the street. Even worse, some of the cleaning agents themselves could be toxic to the environment.

It’s clear that improperly-disposed gum is harmful to the environment. Read on below, where you’ll learn how you can take action and fix this problem.

How to Reduce the Negative Environmental Effects of Chewing Gum

Now you know the horrible environmental effects of gum, how can you prevent them?

Fortunately, it’s simple: Stop littering gum! Put your chewing gum in a garbage can, and dispose of it properly!

While this won’t fix the root cause of the plastic problem, it will help reduce many of the negative environmental effects that come with littering chewed gum.

And, if you really want to help fix this problem, you can just stop buying gum. For most people, it is not a necessity in life, and there is no reason to buy a plastic product that pollutes the environment. With so much sugar, gum isn’t that good for your health anyway.

Or, if you still want to chew gum or blow bubbles with bubble gum, why not try out some modern, biodegradable chewing gum? It’s natural and for the most part, environmentally friendly.

So kick your habit of spitting gum out on the street. Reduce your environmental impact by throwing chewed gum into the garbage. Better yet, choose a biodegradable gum, or just stop chewing gum altogether. Simple!

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  1. This article says “80-90% of all chewed gum is used to litter..” Where did this statistic come from? What study can I point to to back up this statement? Thanks in advance, -rene

    1. Hi, I believe this was the original source when I wrote the article: https://www.custommade.com/blog/sustainable-gum/

      I’m unable to find the exact study behind the claims (and thinking about it now it does seem like an absurdly high amount). Your best bet would be to contact the people from custommade in the link I sent above. I will also try to contact them and see if they respond.

  2. Wow! I truly had no idea that there were more eco-friendly gum options. It’s one of my bad habits, and I’m happy to see that there are some better choices than what I’m currently doing.

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