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Humphrey Squier, of Rochford, Essex, England has a radical idea to end world chewing gum pollution. "Now that EU directives make manufacturers of, for example, cars and white goods responsible for their disposal at the end of their worthwhile life, what about chewing gum?" he asked, in a letter to the London Times.

That prompted another Essex correspondent, Richard Quin, of Witham, to inquire "Does anyone doubt that if chewing gum manufacturers were made responsible for cleaning up the mess consumers of their product make on our streets, within a year they would have developed a gum that would break down in sunlight?"

As everyone knows, millions of blobs of discarded chewing gum disfigure streets, pavements/sidewalks, statues, parks, public transport, theatre seats and out-of-sight areas of hotel bars, coffee tables and chairs. TV close-ups often show cricketers and baseball players discharging spent chewing gum, which must present a sticky problem for groundkeepers.

Even the most placid characters are infuriated when they accidentally step on a freshly-discarded wad of sticky gum, and have difficulty scraping it off their shoes.

Singapore took draconian action. Chewing gum, like littering and jaywalking, is prohibited. The Government imposed the ban 10 years ago, to keep its new and efficient subway system running on time, after spent wads of gum, jammed into the mechanism of the train doors, had prevented the doors from closing.

A spokesperson for the Singapore Customs Department recently warned that anyone ordering gum from foreign mail order catalogues could be gaoled for up to a year and fined up to $6,173. However, mere possession of gum is not an offense, and tourists are allowed to bring in a few sticks.

The spokesperson's name? Mrs Chew! We thought that her name must have been a hoax, but it's not. We checked it out. She's Chew Lai Leng, head of public relations for the Director-General of Customs and Excise.

A search of the Internet shows that Humphrey Squier has many supporters who have a deep hatred of chewing gum and gum chewers. Rose Tillotson, a North Londoner who breeds pet rats (she calls her website Pagan Rattery), writes:

"I get on a crowded train, and if I'm lucky I might even get a seat. If not, I'm standing all the way from Southgate to South Kensington; that's an hour of standing, wedged up against a lot of people. And one will have their Walkman on too loud, and one will have a bad case of BO, and one will have worn too much perfume (gods, asthma and underground commuting so do not mix!!) - and several will be chewing gum. With their mouths open. No matter which way I turn - there they are. All around me. ARGH!!! I never used to mind it so much, but now it really gets to me. Even the smell of it makes me want to vomit. I just can't abide the stuff."

Andrew McCargow, a 23-year-old civil servant from Nottingham (England) can't contain his anger. "I f--- hate chewing gum," he explodes. "It's disgusting stuff. I think Singapore have the right idea: ban it because it's f--- nasty. I don't use swear words lightly but getting chewing gum on the bottom of my shoes pisses me off no end."

We asked Andrew by email if he ever chewed gum. "I must confess that, very occasionally, I do," he replied, "but I always dispose of it properly. I also smoke occasionally , but since I came back from Australia, where environmental awareness seems to be several decades ahead, I never leave my dog ends on the street."

There are thought to be more than 19 million gum chewers in the UK, consuming more than 980 million packs of gum a year. They make such a mess on the streets that authorities are being urged to impose a tax on chewing gum.

The English website reported last March that the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, had made removal of chewing gum from the streets of London a topical issue by suggesting imposition of a gum tax.

"Small quantities of discarded gum would seem to be of little significance, but because gum is resistant to decay, day-by-day, week-by-week, it accumulates until there is a repulsive, but avoidable mess," says the website. "If we can achieve a degree of success by bringing about actions that reduce it, we shall know our efforts have not been in vain."

In Ireland, Belturbet Town Council asked the Minister for the Environment to consider introducing an additional tax of about six cents on each packet of chewing gum sold in that country. Councillor Seamus Fitzpatrick said such a tax would be designed to hit gum chewers every time they spat their gum on to the footpath.

In Scotland, Edinburgh Council was reported last year to be considering imposing a tax on chewing gum. Councillors said so much used gum had been left on the streets that a distinctive pattern was forming on the pavements.

The habit of gum-chewing originated in the United States, and grew to become almost a national pastime. The average American consumes 300 sticks of gum a year (almost six a week).

In his City Review website former New York Times journalist Carter B. Horsley writes: "Worse than the proverbial banana peel, that is biodegradable and humorous, chewing gum is the single worst defiler of the city environment, to say nothing of what it does to your new Reeboks, or Nikes, or whatever. The city, the state and the Federal governments tax cigarettes, a lot... Well, let's tax the chewing gum users, a lot. Shall we say at least as much as cigarettes?"

The Wrigley Company is the world's largest manufacturer of chewing gum and home to some of the best-known brands, including Juicy Fruit, Doublemint, Big Red, and Wrigley's Spearmint gum. Worldwide, Wrigley also makes Airwaves, Alpine, Eclipse, Extra, Freedent, Orbit, P.K, Surpass, and Winterfresh brands of gum in a variety of flavors.

The Wrigley website (well worth a visit) says its founder, William Wrigley Jr., arrived in Chicago in 1891, aged 29, with $32 in his pocket. "He started out selling soap. As an extra incentive to merchants to carry Wrigley's soap he offered them free baking powder. When baking powder proved to be more popular than soap, he switched to the baking powder business. One day, Mr Wrigley got the idea to offer the merchants free chewing gum with each can of baking powder. The rest is history...

"Though publicly traded since 1923, the company has been led by the Wrigley family since it was founded in 1891 by William Wrigley Jr. In all, four generations of Wrigleys have led the company, which has its global headquarters in the famous Wrigley Building in Chicago.

"Wrigley gum is a part of everyday life in more than 140 countries around the world. In the U.S., Wrigley sells nearly half of all gum. In Europe, Wrigley accounts for about 50 % of all chewing gum profits. In 18 European markets, Wrigley is the absolute market-leader with shares of 80% or higher."

But even Wrigleys admit that their product can cause problems: "Q. How can I get chewing gum out of my hair? A. Try using peanut butter or vegetable oil to soften the gum. This should make removing it a bit easier.

"Q. What happens if I swallow my gum? A. A lot of people have the wrong idea about what happens if you swallow a piece of chewing gum, so we're glad to set the record straight! Chewing gum has five basic ingredients - sweeteners, corn syrup, softeners, flavors and gum base (the part that puts the "chew" in chewing gum). The first four ingredients are soluble, meaning they dissolve in your mouth as you chew. Gum base doesn't. And although is isn't meant to be swallowed, if it is, it simply passes through your system, just like popcorn or any other form of roughage. This normally takes only a few days."

Rick Kaczur, 53, of Port Neches, Texas says "Archaeologists have discovered chewed chunks of tree resin while unearthing prehistoric artifacts. From this, it can be surmised that our ancient ancestors were the original inventors of 'chewing gum.'" His interesting article details the history of chewing gum, but we could find no mention of it causing widespread pollution.

"The big breakthrough came in 1869," says Rick. "Exiled Mexican former president and general, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (infamous for his victory over the Alamo defenders) was living in New Jersey. He brought a ton of Mexican chicle with him, in hopes of selling it. He persuaded Thomas Adams of Staten Island, New York to buy it.

"Adams was a photographer and inventor [who] intended to vulcanize the chicle for use as a rubber substitute. But his efforts at vulcanization did not work. However, Adams noticed that Santa Anna liked to chew the chicle (the Mayans chewed chicle many years previously).

"Disappointed with the rubber experiments, Adams boiled a small batch of chicle in his kitchen to create a chewing gum. He gave some to a local store to see if people would buy it. People liked his gum, and before long his business was quite successful. 

"In 1871, Adams patented a gum-producing machine so he could make chewing gum in larger quantities. He added licorice flavoring to his chewing gum in order to make it appeal to more customers. Again he was successful. This was the first flavored gum in the United States, and it was called Black Jack. At this time, chewing gum changed shape from lump or chunks, to sticks."

We emailed Rick for a few personal details. "I started collecting gum wrappers while I was a teenager in Euclid, Ohio.," he told us. "After graduating from Ohio University with a degree in Chemical Engineering, I soon ended up in Port Neches, Texas.

"Since 1974, I have been a process engineer at the styrene-butadiene synthetic rubber plant in Port Neches, presently operated by Ameripol Synpol Corporation. If you are wondering whether ASC makes SBR ingredients for chewing gum base, the answer is 'no'. That distinction belongs to Goodyear, in Houston.

"I have about 4,000 gum wrappers from around the world... Gum wrapper collecting is popular in the Czech Republic.. They are more generalized, collecting card inserts, comics, tattoos, stickers, bubble gum, and other gum ephemera."

And does Rick enjoy chewing the gum after he has saved the wrapper? "I chew gum only occasionally, and only at work - not at home... I prefer the no-longer available Beemans and Clove flavors made by Warner Lambert. And some of the Lotte flavors from Japan, such as Lemon Tea, Coffee, La France (pear), Sweetie (grapefruit) and Assist (a sports gum, flavored like Gatorade). That's a long list for a non-chewer!"

Erik Bean, of Walled Lake, Michigan, is Editor-in-Chief of a comprehensive website, "Gum chewing is a delight, a brief respite of pleasure, if you will, from the tensions of everyday life," says Erik. "It is a simple, under-celebrated joy, that until now has received very little, if any, fanfare. Gum chewing, is indeed, an integral part of most of our lives and has been since most of us remember.

"Gum chewers love their gum, and spare little expense to buy it. Compared to other more controversial and increasingly expensive habits, (i.e. cigarette and cigar smoking, pipe and tobacco snuff, a cup of coffee, or espresso), chewing gum has remained about the cheapest thrill an empty pocket can still afford.

"As a matter of fact, several tobacco companies own and/or have much investment in the chewing gum industry and it would naturally behoove them to pay more attention to what the gum chewing population likes and dislikes... 

"From the Philippines and Indonesia to China, Israel, the U.S.A., Mexico, and back to Japan, chewing gum is a big commodity. And even though some quagmires, those due to gum misuse, have led to tough no gum policies, such is the case in Singapore and more recently at some American airports, who have a no gum stocking policy, the likelihood that gum will 'stick' with us for many years to come is as strong as it ever was." 

Korean gum-maker Lotte Confectionery strikes a blow against pollution, by printing this message on its gum wrappers: "After chewing, wrap the gum in the silver wrapper and throw it in a trash bin." There's one drawback: it's written in Korean.

Wrigleys too urges its customers to dispose of their gum responsibly, although the advice seems to have fallen on millions of deaf ears. As long ago as 1934, Phillip K. Wrigley instituted the phrase "Use this wrapper to dispose of gum."

Dr Gum, founder of GumPals, Inc., whose real name is James M. Balanesi, offers "a unique and fun way to get rid of your gum when you're done chewing."

His GumPals website tells how "one evening in 1983. Dr. Gum went out to dinner, with a guest, to a fancy restaurant in Palo Alto, California. As always, Dr. Gum had to get rid of his chewing gum before eating his meal. He didn't toss his gum out in the parking lot nor did he want to park his gum under the table.

"Another option that he chose not to exercise was to simply place his chewing gum in the ashtray. In those days, ashtrays were commonly found on tables in restaurants. He didn't want to leave his chewed piece of gum exposed for all to see, especially his guest (that would be gross!). Instead, he once again searched for a scrap of paper to wrap it in...

"[Next day] the circular GumPals tissues and Table Top dispensers were born... Some who first saw Dr. Gum's GumPals laughed and thought that he had gone nuts, while most encouraged him to go forward with his new found passion.

"Many years have passed with a mixture of successes and temporary setbacks. However, one thing is for certain, our friend has endured the ups and downs of pursuing his dream and is proud to offer you the most convenient and sanitary way to dispose of your chewing gum.

"In August of 1998, Dr. Gum's wife, Cindy, opened her very own restaurant, the Good Day Cafe, in Vallejo, California. It's a booming place, where the super friendly atmosphere welcomes people who enjoy their chewing gum.

"There's no searching for a scrap of paper to wrap your gum in. Instead, you'll find custom imprinted GumPals' Pocket Dispensers on the tables. Patrons are encouraged to take a dispenser as a thank you for stopping in. And of course, there's a big gumball dispenser for the little guest, as well."

Gum pollution is even a problem in Tuscany (Italy). We found this news item, dated May 15, 2001, on an Italian website "A weekly collection and recycling service for used chewing gum was launched today...The aim of the project is to collect the used chewing gum at special collection boxes situated at strategic places around Barga Vecchia.

"Once collected, the chewing gum is then sent to a recycling plant specially built at Gallicano. It is estimated that the L350,000 monthly cleaning bill of chewing gum from the streets of Barga will be reduced by at least 20% (a saving of L 70.000, which will more than pay for the 15 specially constructed collection boxes in under a year)."

One other interesting fact we learnt from our tour of the Internet: owners of speakeasies handed out clove chewing gum during Prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s, to freshen the breath of customers drinking illegal liquor. They probably spat it out on the sidewalk.


Korean gum maker Lotte displays this uplifting message (in English) on its website:

Lotte Confectionery - Bringing Prosperity and Happiness to the World

From the smallest spark comes a roaring fire. Small streams merge into a mighty river. The delicious world of Lotte Confectionery started out with a tiny pack of chewing gum. However, with the trust and affection shown by consumers, Lotte Confectionery has continuously worked for the good health and happiness of the nation over the past 30 years. Striving for globalization, Lotte Confectionery is doing its best to develop new technologies and establish new overseas markets. Trying to make the world a better place, Lotte Confectionery promises to make only the finest products.



A Californian reader says his town, San Luis Obispo, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, has a Bubble Gum Alley, where a wall is covered with used chewing gum pellets. Locals and tourists add their contributions every day. In the early 1960s a few wads of gum appeared stuck on a wall in the alley, then more and more. By the 1970s, shop owners complained and demanded the gum be cleaned off but it was too late, because more gum kept appearing. For details and pictures, click on BUBBLE GUM ALLEY and BUBBLE.


Copyright 2002
Eric Shackle
Story first posted June 2002

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