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The UK chewing gum market is worth over £200 million, yet most brands contain plastic (labelled as ‘gum base’ made with the same stuff used for glue and tyres). Doctors are not fans of chewing gum, saying over-use can lead to jaw pain, headaches, diarrhoea and tooth decay. It’s not true that chewing gum stays in your stomach if you swallow it, but you should not swallow it all the same. Same with bubble gum (even more of a choking hazard if a child blows bubbles). Iran shopkeepers often give out gum, if they don’t have enough change?

The main reason why people chew gum is to freshen the breath. Far easier to drink more water, give up smoking and press a slice of cucumber on the roof of your mouth for 90 seconds and press on it with your tongue (nature’s instant breath-freshener!) Do not use gum if you have fillings or dentures.

Littered gum is dangerous to pets, as most brands contain xylitol, a birch sweetener (not good for your tummy either) and promoted as ‘tooth-friendly. But it’s lethal if licked (and has a sweet taste). Considering almost 100% of gum is thrown on the streets, gum should ideally be xylitol-free (and there should be packet warnings to avoid use near animal friends). 

gum litter is on nearly all our streets

Whether natural or not, nearly every street is littered with chewing gum. If plastic, this washes down storm drains and goes into the sea (and the xylitol if licked is lethal to pets). It also costs millions for councils to clean up using special machines that leave pavements wet (a slipping hazard for vulnerable people who could then sue councils). London’s Oxford Street is particularly bad, a never-ending battle to clean up littered gum.

Some councils are receiving funding to clean up gum, and using some of the money to educate on not littering gum. In Singapore, it’s illegal to chew gum unless prescribed by a doctor or dentist. If you think that’s going too far, there are clever gum bins (below) or some advocate ‘gum-free areas’. Know that it’s illegal to drop litter. Councils are responsible for clearing it up on public land and private landowners (including shops) are responsible for cleaning it up on public land. If they don’t (no matter who dropped it) you can report it at Fix My Street and councils can serve litter abatement orders.

ask councils to install gumdrop bins

The Gumdrop Bin is an ingenious invention by a Brighton designer. The bright pink ‘ball-shaped bins’ take gum that is then sent off when full to make into new gum bins. The company also makes personal gum bins that once full, you can download a freepost label to send it off, and get discounts on new ones.

Collectively, the company is saving clients (including schools and offices) over £1 million in cleaning bills. One full bin contains 500 pieces of gum (enough to make 3 new bins) and can be permanently mounted to the wall or posts in shopping centres, football stadiums, public toilets, bus stops and train stations, supermarkets, car parks, theme parks, cinemas, pubs and anywhere else. Just sign up to receive your Gumdrop bins and a welcome pack within days. The bad news is that in some trials, people have inexplicably been ripping them off posts to take home as souvenirs.

alternatives to plastic brands of chewing gum

Max's organic mints

Copy your grandpa, and carry a tin of organic mints in your pocket. Does the same thing, tastes better and won’t give you jaw ache! Max’s Organic Mints (The Netherlands) and Vermints (US) are two good brands.

Simply Gum is a US brand, made with tree sap (low-sugar versions have xylitol but regular versions are sweetened with organic cane sugar). Flavours include mint, cinnamon ginger, fennel, spearmint, coffee and pumpkin spice.  Oh My Gum!  and Nuud Gum are two other brands but also contain xylitol (as does toothpaste company Georganics in its gum, at time of writing). 

how to easily remove stuck-on gum

The simplest method is to rub the gum with ice (or freeze the item, then use a spoon or paint scraper to remove. Alternatively, heat white vinegar and use an old toothbrush to soften (you can sprinkle bicarbonate of soda to fizz and dissolve stubborn gum). Canned air (used to clean inbetween computer keys) is also good.

To remove gum stuck in your hair, cover with olive oil (or peanut butter – not near dogs or they’ll lick your head!). Wait a few minutes, and it should come out easily, then wash your hair.

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