We reported yesterday that 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 were 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
- Polyvinyl acetate
Without the jargon, theyre plastics, rubbers, and waxes.
Polyethylene is used in plastic bags and childrens toys while polyvinyl acetate is one of the ingredients in the PVA glue you know so well from your school days.
Manufacturers dont have to disclose which of the above products they use and in which quantities (it will usually just be listed as gum base) so theres no way to tell which youre ingesting.
Although its a myth that swallowed gum stays in your system for ten years, the body cant digest these polymers and elastomers, so if you do swallow it itll 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 its not clear where it all goes, but its not water-soluble so doesnt break down.
Thats why companies like Simply Gum (who manufacture the new Iceland product) decided to offer an alternative thats biodegradable.
Other plastic-free brands are also available, such as Peppersmith, Chicza, and Glee Gum.