I’m not a big gum chewer. I can keep a stick of gum in my mouth for about five minutes, just enough time to suck all the flavor out of it, before I’m tired of chewing and starting to get that chewing gum headache.
So it was no hardship to let go of chewing gum when I gave up products in plastic packaging.
Still, if someone offered me a piece of gum, I might have accepted the random chew here and there. Yeah, I knew it contained artificial flavors and wasn’t good for me. And I always felt guilty if it came in one of these:
But after reading some information that Fake Plastic Fish reader Eleanor Sommer forwarded me yesterday, I won’t be putting any of that stuff in my mouth anymore.
Gum is made from plastic.
According to Chemistry.About.com, chewing gum was originally made from tree sap called chicle, a natural rubber, and sometimes various waxes. But…
After World War II, chemists learned to make synthetic rubber, which came to replace most natural rubber in chewing gum (e.g., polyethylene and polyvinyl acetate). The last U.S. manufacturer to use chicle is Glee Gum.
Polyvinyl acetate? What’s that? According to the article “Behind the Label: Chewing Gum” published this week in The Ecologist, polyvinyl acetate (a type of plastic) is manufactured using vinyl acetate, a chemical shown to cause tumors in lab rats. In fact, in 2008 the Canadian government was so concerned about vinyl acetate used in the production of chewing gum that they added it to a list of substances to be considered toxic. However, according to the The Ecologist article, government regulators were forced to back down due to industry pressure.
But is all chewing gum made from polyvinyl acetate? If the label lists “gum base” as an ingredient, it may contain “petroleum, lanolin, glycerin, polyethylene, polyvinyl acetate, petroleum wax, stearic acid, or latex,” according to the Vegetarian Resource Group.
The trouble is that we as consumers have no way of knowing which of these ingredients, if any, are included in a particular gum base because manufacturers are not required to go into any more detail!
And a few more points to ponder before I move on…
1) Where does (plastic) chewing gum go after it’s ABC (already been chewed)? Is it flushed down toilets? Washed down storm drains? Hmm… just one more source of non-biodegradable plastic in our oceans?
2) What happens when we swallow it? Does it eventually make its way out? Or do all of us have plastic in our stomachs? Just wondering…
Natural chewing gum
According to the About.com article, Glee Gum still uses natural chicle in its gum base. So I investigated the Glee Gum web site, and I found this description of the product’s gum base:
What is in your gum base?
Our gum base is a mix of chicle (see above), natural gums, rubbers, resins, and waxes. The exact formula is (unfortunately!) confidential. It is safe to chew, but, like all chewing gum, we don’t recommend that you swallow!
What exactly are the resins in Glee Gum? From the description above, I can’t tell whether the gum base contains plastic and/or petroleum-based wax or not. The site does tout the omission of artificial flavors, sweeteners, colors, and preservatives, which is awesome. But is the gum base completely natural?
I recalled that when my nieces were young, I bought them a “Make Your Own Rainforest Chewing Gum” kit that contained natural chicle as its base. Googling the product now, I see that it is also made by the Glee Gum company, and includes the same gum base as their chewing gums. So I still don’t know what else is in it.
I called and left a message for Glee Gum. I have not heard back yet, but I’ll be sure and post an update here when I get an answer.
UPDATE: I just spoke with Deborah Schimberg from Glee Gum. In fact, Glee’s gum base DOES contain polyvinyl acetate in addition to chicle. They are working on developing an all natural gum base with no synthetics. But at this point, she says that all gum manufacturers use synthetics in their gum base. And in fact, there are only a handful of gum base providers and they won’t even provide complete information to the chewing gum manufacturers about ingredients.
Deborah is hoping to release the new gum base in 2010, but she has several concerns to deal with. Natural rubber, for example, could be an allergen for people with latex allergies. And there are concerns about other possible ingredients. But she said she’d let me know first thing when the new gum base is ready.
Deborah also told me about an English woman who wants to collect our already chewed gum and make gum drop bins out of it for collecting even more chewed gum. Please check out Gumdrop Ltd.
Regardless, the point is that until manufacturers are required to list all of the ingredients in their products, rather than using non-specific terms like “gum base,” “natural flavors,” or “fragrance,” or similarly, until they are required to list the ingredients in their plastic packaging, we can’t know for sure what we’re putting into our bodies and whether or not it’s truly safe.