Iceland is to become the first major UK supermarket to sell plastic-free chewing gum.
An amazing development, but a headscratcher nonetheless. Have we been chewing on plastic this whole time? Iceland commissioned a study before making their product, and we’re not alone; 85% of the 2,000 people surveyed had no idea there was plastic in chewing gum. We had a look into he thing that makes it gummy is the gum base.
Although in the past this was made using natural ingredients such a chicle (which is extracted from a tree like sap) scientists found ways to adapt the recipe and use easier to find things. Those things can be any combination of the following (these are the USA FDA approved gum base ingredients): Butadiene-styrene rubber Isobutylene-isoprene copolymer (butyl rubber) Paraffin (via the Fischer-Tropsch process) Petroleum wax Petroleum wax synthetic Polyethylene Polyvinyl acetate Without the jargon, they’re plastics, rubbers, and waxes.
Polyethylene is used in plastic bags and children’s toys while polyvinyl acetate is one of the ingredients in the PVA glue you know so well from your school days. Manufacturers don’t have to disclose which of the above products they use and in which quantities (it will usually just be listed as gum base) so there’s no way to tell which you’re ingesting. Although it’s a myth that swallowed gum stays in your system for ten years, the body can’t digest these polymers and elastomers, so if you do swallow it it’ll come out of your body virtually the same way it went in.
Aside from this, though, there are environmental concerns. UK authorities spend an estimated £60 million removing gum from our streets each year, and it’s not clear where it all goes, but it’s not water-soluble so doesn’t break down. That’s why companies like Simply Gum (who manufacture the new Iceland product) decided to offer an alternative that’s biodegradable. Other plastic-free brands are also available, such as Peppersmith, Chicza, and Glee Gum.