True Cellular Formulas Team - March 18, 2023
Does Chewing Gum Contain Plastic?
Make the Switch to All-Natural Gum!
One of those things you probably never thought about, and may be shocked to find out, is that most chewing gum comes from butadiene-based synthetic rubber, a polymer made from oil. Does that sound like the materials are made to make tires? Probably because it is. Read on for a history of chewing gum and which all-natural gums you should switch to.
The History of Chewing Gum
Like most things our modern industrial culture destroys, chewing gum has natural and healthy roots. The concept of contemporary chewing gum comes from a practice that has existed worldwide for thousands of years.
Historians note that ancient Greeks would chew on a plant-derived substance called mastich. Archaeological evidence also suggests that chewing birch-bark tar was popular with young Scandinavian people thousands of years ago. In Southern Mexico and Central America, the Mayans and Aztecs would strategically slice the bark of the sapodilla tree and chew on the resin made from the sap, called chicle. The Northern Native American cultures chewed spruce tree resin, and when the European settlers picked up the habit, they capitalized on it and gave birth to the chewing gum industry.
Everything changed when gum transitioned from one foraging for personal use to a manufactured product in a for-profit industry. The chicle was still imported from the Mexican sapodilla tree, which quickly became problematic since the average American chewed 105 sticks of gum a year by the 1920s. As the demand for chewing gum began to outrun nature’s resources for chicle, scientists predicted total forest depletion of the sapodilla tree within four decades.
Fortunate for the trees, but unfortunately for humans, this was the point at which natural chewing gum was replaced by synthetic bases made from petroleum, wax, and other substances.
Plastic in Your Chewing Gum?
By the 1950s, all the American chewing gum that was once made from natural chicle was now produced from butadiene-based synthetic rubber, a polymer, a plastic product made from oil, a bit like the stuff we use to make car tires. This synthetic chewing-gum-type product is still the dominant product on the market today, apart from the very few genuinely ‘all-natural’ gums.
Apart from plastic, modern chewing gum is also filled with:
- Fillers, like talc and calcium carbonate, that bulk out the gum.
- Emulsifiers are chemicals that help mix flavors and colors and reduce stickiness.
- Softeners like vegetable oil are added to the gum base to keep it chewy.
- Artificial flavors and colors give gum a sweet and bright color.
- All Wrigley gum
- Big League Chew
- Big Red
- Bubble Tape
- Dubble Bubble
- Hubba Bubba
- Ice Breakers
- Juicy Fruit
- Mentos Gum
- Glee Gum
- Pür Gum
- Simply Gum
- The Humble Co. Chewing Gum
- Best Mint Project 7 Clean Chewing Gum
- Chicza Organic Mayan Rainforest Chewing Gum
Regarding the ‘good list,’ you should still read the ingredients list and decide if any gum is right. Although none of the other brands contain plastic, some still use thickeners, vegetable oils, or questionable “natural flavors.”
Quit Tossing Your Gum!
If this article hasn’t convinced you never to buy naughty gum again, ensure you’re not throwing the stuff out on the street. Remember: chewing gum is an oil-based synthetic polymer, and the natural processes do not break these products down in the environment.
A UK study estimated that people stuck 250,000 pieces of chewed gum on London’s Oxford Street alone, and a report in 2015 estimated that the cost to local councils of cleaning up chewing gum from UK streets was £56 million.
Whether or not you’re throwing the gum into the trash or not, plastic doesn’t degrade. With an industry producing 374 billion sticks of gum with a total estimated weight of 100,000 tonnes, a lot of plastic pollution is created in our world every year.
Plastics and synthetic rubbers last hundreds of years, so swap to the ‘good list’ of all-natural, biodegradable gums, a healthier option for you and the planet.
Chewing gum was once an all-natural chicle resin used by cultures worldwide for thousands of years. After commercialization, the product went from natural to synthetic. Most of today’s gum is made from butadiene-based synthetic rubber, a polymer, a plastic product made from oil. Quit chewing on plastic; swap to all-natural gum today.
- Person, and Associated Press. “Scientists Find Ancient Chewing Gum in Finland.” CTVNews, CTV News, 20 Aug. 2007, www.ctvnews.ca/scientists-find-ancient-chewing-gum-in-finland-1.253265.
- Mathews, Jennifer P., and Gillian P. Schultz. Chicle: The Chewing Gum of the Americas, from the Ancient Maya to William Wrigley. The University of Arizona Press, 2009.