Is chewing gum biodegradable? The answer will shock you

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important, and we are all trying to reduce and reuse where possible. One thing we want to know is, is chewing gum biodegradable?  

Whether to freshen your breath after meals or to attempt to hold the Guinness World Record for the largest bubble, chewing gum is a daily enjoyment for many. But what happens to the chewing gum when we are finished with it?  

Unfortunately, a lot of chewing gum is not disposed of correctly, which is precisely why its eco-friendly status is being questioned.

With many trying their best to incorporate greener choices into their daily lives, does chewing gum make the cut? So, let’s find out. Is chewing gum biodegradable? The answer might shock you.  

What are the origins of chewing gum? – tar, resin, and more

Is chewing gum biodegradable? It is made from things that are not.
Credit: commonswikimedia.org

Before we jump into answering is chewing gum biodegradable, let’s take a look at its history.

The tasty gum we enjoy daily wasn’t created by Willy Wonka, but not to worry, it still has an interesting past.

There is evidence to show that Northern Europeans chewed on birch bark tar thousands of years ago. It supposedly had medicinal properties and proved useful in relieving toothaches. 

Research has also claimed the ancient Mayan people used to chew on a tree sap substance known as chicle found in the sapodilla tree.

Wrigley's increased sales of gum.
Credit: commonsikimedia.org

Apparently, chewing on it could fight hunger and quench thirst. Indigenous people in North America have also been said to chew on spruce tree resin, and European settlers who followed continued this practice.  

It wasn’t until the late 1840s that John Curtis created the first commercial spruce tree gum.

He opened the first bubble gum factory the world had seen in the 1850s, and from there, it became more in demand.

In the 20th century, William Wrigley Jr. brought it further and quickly became one of America’s wealthiest men. 

What is chewing gum made from? – a synthetic ingredient 

Is chewing gum biodegradable? It's made from plastic products, so it cannot be.
Credit: pxhere.com

Now you are probably wondering what is chewing gum made from today? Chicle became much more expensive and less available to buy, so chewing gum makers searched for different ingredients.

In the mid-1900s, they turned their attention to petroleum-based materials and paraffin wax in the chewing gum market. This meant you could chew it forever, and it wouldn’t break down.

Today’s chewing gum is made of four different groups of ingredients. These ingredients are what give it its stretchy texture, elasticity, and unique flavour.

The first is softeners, which are added to ensure the gum remains chewy rather than stiff. An excellent example of a softener used in chewing gum is vegetable oil.  

Polymers are also used and are the ingredient in chewing gum that causes the gum to stretch.

Polymers are impossible to break down.
Credit: pxhere.com

Polyvinyl acetate, in addition to other ingredients, are often what makes up the chewing gum base.

Emulsifiers are added too as a means to reduce stickiness. Calcium carbonate and talc are two examples of fillers that are added to bulk up the gum.  

The only mystery ingredient with chewing gum is the ‘gum base.’ There is a reason why we are not told what is in the gum base, and it’s because it is often plastic.

According to plasticchange.org, most supermarkets’ chewing gum is made of a mixture of chemicals and plastic.

Chewing gum also often contains preservatives, sugar, and artificial colours.  

What we’ve all been dying to know – is chewing gum biodegradable?   

Is chewing gum biodegradable? The answer, is no.
Credit: pixabay.com

So, is chewing gum biodegradable? Since a lot of today’s chewing gum can contain plastic, it is not entirely biodegradable.

It is impossible to determine the length of time it takes for chewing gum to break down entirely.

One material commonly used in chewing gum is butyl rubber, and this has been found never to biodegrade.

In addition, many chewing gum products contain plastics which are known to take years to break down.

Beyond whether it is biodegradable, it is also essential to look at the product cycle of chewing gum and consider the other impacts it can have on the environment.

Gum can be very harmful for animals and the environment.
Credit: pxhere.com

For instance, it is one of the most littered items. In addition, being littered means there is the risk of wild animals mistaking it for food and getting sick or choking on it.

As well as that, it is crucial to think about the impact of its production and transportation on the planet.  

We don’t ask that you give up on your mission to blow the biggest bubble but do check out some of the brands that are creating options that are kinder to the planet.

For instance, biodegradable chewing gum brands include Chewsy, Simply Gum, and Chicza, to name a few. If you still have some non-biodegradable gum to enjoy, be sure to dispose of it properly in the bin.

Other notable mentions

Bioteneois: This is a marketed chlorohexidine bubble gum that has antibacterial action on plaque.

Bioactive compounds: Both water-insoluble and water-soluble chewing gum bases can be used as a carrier of bioactive compounds.

Fluoride chewing gums: Fluoride chewing gums can be useful for children deficient in fluoride.

FAQs about chewing gum

Is chewing gum biodegradable? No.

Is chewing gum harmful to the environment?

Since chewing gums are made from polymers which are synthetic plastics. They do not biodegrade, so chewing gum is bad for the environment. It is not a sustainable product.

Does gum contain plastic?

Chewing gum does indeed contain plastic. It is made with polymers, a synthetic plastic.

How long does it take for chewing gum to decompose?

That’s the thing, no one actually knows. As plastic does not decompose, it is nearly impossible to know.

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