The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
January 15, 2010

Chewing on Plastic? Yum!

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.

Chewing Gum

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:

Chewing Gum

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According to Chemistry.About.com, chewing gum was originally made from tree sap called chicle, a natural rubber, and sometimes various waxes.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.

99 comments
Jess
Jess

Check out Simply Gum!!!

Plasticky
Plasticky

@Jack

The other point to consider is biodegradability

First ENR of 2014! | Clean Fairfax Council
First ENR of 2014! | Clean Fairfax Council

[…] they do to the planet. In 2013, I found out that chewing gum (which I chew at least twice a day) hasn’t been made from natural chicle in decades and that I was chewing on plastic! Now imagine all the gum people spit out onto the ground and all […]

MaryD1984
MaryD1984

BethTerryLnm  I agree about Spry's packaging and hope they will replace those canisters w/cardboard soon.  I'll email and ask them to.  Perhaps if we all do?  In the meantime, at least the canisters can be re-purposed.

Chewing Gum – Harmless or Toxic? | Nature Mo
Chewing Gum – Harmless or Toxic? | Nature Mo

[…] Canada took steps at one point to get polyvinyl acetate listed as toxic after studies showed it was a likely carcinogen but the gum manufacturers played hardball and won out. A preservative called hydroxyanisol (BHA) is also often found in gum and it IS listed as a “reasonably anticipated’ carcinogen but that does not stop minute amounts of it from being allowed in chewing gum. Apparently this is just another industry where the ideals of capitalism are proven false and apparently money is all that is required to make selling poisonous products, perfectly legal. I should mention that the company behind Glee still uses chicle in their gum and they deserve big props for that. However I still won’t let my kids chew it because they do use some of these chemicals in their formulation. […]

Guest
Guest

What about Zellies gum? I know they are stored in a plastic container, but has anyone searched their ingredients? Gum help my child with sensory processing disorder to focus. However, I certainly don't want her consuming toxins!

sybren
sybren

chewing gum base is made of : 

Elastomers,  Resins, Plasticizers, Paraffin waxes and micro, Vegetable oils, Excipients ,

Filler,  Emulsifiers, Sweeteners, Flavors,  Other ingredients, Dyes, Antioxidants, Glycerol, Polishes,

and every  manufacturer has his own special "recipe"

Source a pdf in dutch ( just run it through google translator), very detailed

 Chewing gum, The Chemical Facts
by Martine ir Segers,

 http://www.chemischefeitelijkheden.nl/Uploads/Magazines/CF-202-kauwgom.pdf

sybren
sybren

chewing gum base is made of : 

Elastomers,  Resins, Plasticizers, Paraffin waxes and micro, Vegetable oils, Excipients ,

Filler,  Emulsifiers, Sweeteners, Flavors,  Other ingredients, Dyes, Antioxidants, Glycerol, Polishes,

and every  manufacturer has his own special "recipe"

Source a pdf in dutch ( just run it through google translator), very detailed

 Chewing gum, The Chemical Facts

by Martine ir Segers,

 http://www.chemischefeitelijkheden.nl/Uploads/Magazines/CF-202-kauwgom.pdf

BethTerry
BethTerry

@Jack BethTerry Hi. Sorry if there was a misunderstanding.  Actually, the FDA does not require those ingredients to be disclosed to the public.   Gum manufacturers can just call it "gum base" and do not have to tell us what ingredients are in it.  And there are quite a few questionable chemicals that are allowed in food contact plastics.  BPA, for example.

BethTerry
BethTerry

I was using an extreme example to point out the flaw in your logic. Your premise seems to be that since polymers are in other things I eat, it's okay to chew gum made from synthetic polymers. But just as some chemicals are toxic, some polymers are toxic. And manufacturers are not required to disclose the additives, of which there could be any of several thousand, in synthetic plastics.

BethTerry
BethTerry

Jack, by your logic, it's okay to eat cyanide because cyanide is a chemical and chemicals are in everything.

Sure, there are both natural and synthetic polymers. Most chewing gum is made from synthetic polymers with undisclosed ingredients. I'm not going to put it in my mouth. What you choose to do is your business.

Jack
Jack

Plastics are polymers. Its not like your chewing on a grocery bag. Polymers - natural and synthetic, both of which are considered "plastics" - are in everything so you better stop eating a whole lot of other things too if your going to stop chewing gum. 

My Plastic Free Life
My Plastic Free Life

[...] insights and inspirations. For example I liked the article about plastics in chewing gum (link) or her Plastic-free Living Guide (link). Looking through a few articles, it becomes also clear [...]

How Do You Encourage Your Family To Become Healthi
How Do You Encourage Your Family To Become Healthi

[...] few days ago my son was eating candy, my daughter was chewing gum (most chewing gum contains plastic) and I was too tired to do more than open a can of soup and throw some whole wheat bread in the [...]

Lnm
Lnm

From the makers of Spry Gum 3/4/13- Hello Lena, Thank you for your interest in Xlear Inc. and our Spry gum. Our gum base is not from a synthetic material. Our gum base is natural sourced from a plant it is from the Jelutong Tree. If you have any other questions you can visit our website at www.xlear.com or give us a call at 877-599-5327. Have a great week!

Lnm
Lnm

From the makers of Spry Gum 3/4/13-

Hello Lena,

Thank you for your interest in Xlear Inc. and our Spry gum. Our gum base is not from a synthetic material. Our gum base is natural sourced from a plant it is from the Jelutong Tree. If you have any other questions you can visit our website at www.xlear.com or give us a call at 877-599-5327. Have a great week!

Lnm
Lnm

March 12, 2013 Hi Lena, Thanks for your continued interest! Our gum base is unfortunately NOT yet 100% natural. We hope to offer new and improved, 100% natural gum base later this year. We can email you a notification as soon as we have it. (We will also want to shout it to the world!). In the meantime, all the digestible parts of Glee Gum continue to be all-natural- the sugar, the flavors, the coloring, etc. Thanks again for asking. Yours in Glee, Molly Molly Lederer Verve, inc. ~ 305 Dudley St. ~ Providence, RI 02907 p: 401-351-6415 ~ f: 401-272-1204

Zero Plastic Week // vanaf morgen! - Moderne Hippi
Zero Plastic Week // vanaf morgen! - Moderne Hippi

[...] dat kauwgom altijd verpakt zit is in plastic. Maar, in m’n onderzoek, heb ik ook een en ander gelezen over plastic IN kauwgom! Nu heb ik al vaak de meest bizarre dingen gehoord over wat er allemaal wel niet in kauwgom zit. [...]

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@sybren Thank you for finding this!  Great information to have on hand.  And stated very clearly in the text that manufacturers do not disclose their proprietary recipes.

BethTerry
BethTerry

sybren Thank you for finding this!  Great information to have on hand.  And stated very clearly in the text that manufacturers do not disclose their proprietary recipes.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

Jack, by your logic, it's okay to eat cyanide because cyanide is a chemical and chemicals are in everything.

Sure, there are both natural and synthetic polymers. Most chewing gum is made from synthetic polymers with undisclosed ingredients. I'm not going to put it in my mouth. What you choose to do is your business.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@sybren That's cool.  I know I can get beeswax in bulk without plastic.  I wonder how chicle is sold.

BethTerry
BethTerry

sybren That's cool.  I know I can get beeswax in bulk without plastic.  I wonder how chicle is sold.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

 @Lnm The problem with Spry is the packaging, which is all plastic.  I want to find all natural gum in plastic-free packaging available in the U.S.

BethTerry
BethTerry

@Lnm The problem with Spry is the packaging, which is all plastic.  I want to find all natural gum in plastic-free packaging available in the U.S.

BethTerry
BethTerry

Oops.  Should have read more closely.  I thought this comment was left by someone at Glee... didn't realize you were copying an email they sent to you.  Okay, I will contact them about the new formula.

BethTerry
BethTerry

And will it comes in a cardboard box without plastic packaging?

Lnm
Lnm

Ooops, I meant March 1, 2013

Jack
Jack

@BethTerry Your reply makes no sense. Cyanide is CN-, not a polymer. No point in my statement did i say that you should eat poison. I was just informing you that polymers are in a lot more things then just chewing gum. 

MaryD1984
MaryD1984

@BethTerry@Lnm  I agree about Spry's packaging and hope they will replace those canisters w/cardboard soon.  I'll email and ask them to.  Perhaps if we all do?  In the meantime, at least the canisters can be re-purposed.  

Lnm
Lnm

@BethTerry @Lnm I agree. I dislike the blister packs as well

Lnm
Lnm

@BethTerry @Lnm I agree. I dislike the blister packs as well

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

Oops.  Should have read more closely.  I thought this comment was left by someone at Glee... didn't realize you were copying an email they sent to you.  Okay, I will contact them about the new formula.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

And will it comes in a cardboard box without plastic packaging?

Plasticky
Plasticky

@Jack
The other point to consider is biodegradability

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@Jack @BethTerry Hi. Sorry if there was a misunderstanding.  Actually, the FDA does not require those ingredients to be disclosed to the public.   Gum manufacturers can just call it "gum base" and do not have to tell us what ingredients are in it.  And there are quite a few questionable chemicals that are allowed in food contact plastics.  BPA, for example.  

Jack
Jack

@BethTerry We must have had a misunderstanding. I did not mean to imply that you should chew gum made from synthetic polymers. I just wanted to state a fact that polymers are used in a lot more things than gum. And yes, some polymers are toxic i understand that, but a lot of the synthetic polymers in gum are not. If they were, they would not be able to sell them. One point that you brought up is that manufacturers are not required to disclose additives in gums? I was pretty sure the FDA required this. If i am incorrect - please inform me. Thanks!

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

I was using an extreme example to point out the flaw in your logic. Your premise seems to be that since polymers are in other things I eat, it's okay to chew gum made from synthetic polymers. But just as some chemicals are toxic, some polymers are toxic. And manufacturers are not required to disclose the additives, of which there could be any of several thousand, in synthetic plastics.

Trackbacks

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  8. […] Canada took steps at one point to get polyvinyl acetate listed as toxic after studies showed it was a likely carcinogen but the gum manufacturers played hardball and won out. A preservative called hydroxyanisol (BHA) is also often found in gum and it IS listed as a “reasonably anticipated’ carcinogen but that does not stop minute amounts of it from being allowed in chewing gum. Apparently this is just another industry where the ideals of capitalism are proven false and apparently money is all that is required to make selling poisonous products, perfectly legal. I should mention that the company behind Glee still uses chicle in their gum and they deserve big props for that. However I still won’t let my kids chew it because they do use some of these chemicals in their formulation. […]

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    […] Canada took steps at one point to get polyvinyl acetate listed as toxic after studies showed it was a likely carcinogen but the gum manufacturers played hardball and won out. A preservative called hydroxyanisol (BHA) is also often found in gum and it IS listed as a “reasonably anticipated’ carcinogen but that does not stop minute amounts of it from being allowed in chewing gum. Apparently this is just another industry where the ideals of capitalism are proven false and apparently money is all that is required to make selling poisonous products, perfectly legal. I should mention that the company behind Glee still uses chicle in their gum and they deserve big props for that. However I still won’t let my kids chew it because they do use some of these chemicals in their formulation. […]

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  16. […] If the gum label lists “gum base” as one of their ingredients there’s a chance your gum contains “petroleum, lanolin, glycerin, […]

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  18. […] one that shocked me the most was chewing gum.  Most chewing gum contains plastic in the gum base — even “natural” chewing gums like […]

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  20. How Do You Encourage Your Family To Become Healthier Eaters? says:

    […] few days ago my son was eating candy, my daughter was chewing gum (most chewing gum contains plastic) and I was too tired to do more than open a can of soup and throw some whole wheat bread in the […]

  21. […] insights and inspirations. For example I liked the article about plastics in chewing gum (link) or her Plastic-free Living Guide (link). Looking through a few articles, it becomes also clear […]

  22. […] Canada took steps at one point to get polyvinyl acetate listed as toxic after studies showed it was a likely carcinogen but the gum manufacturers played hardball and won out. A preservative called hydroxyanisol (BHA) is also often found in gum and it IS listed as a “reasonably anticipated’ carcinogen but that does not stop minute amounts of it from being allowed in chewing gum. Apparently this is just another industry where the ideals of capitalism are proven false and apparently money is all that is required to make selling poisonous products, perfectly legal. I should mention that the company behind Glee still uses chicle in their gum and they deserve big props for that. However I still won’t let my kids chew it because they do use some of these chemicals in their formulation. […]

  23. […] they do to the planet. In 2013, I found out that chewing gum (which I chew at least twice a day) hasn’t been made from natural chicle in decades and that I was chewing on plastic! Now imagine all the gum people spit out onto the ground and all […]