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According to Chemistry.About.com, chewing gum was originally made from tree sap called chicle, a natural rubber, and sometimes various waxes.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

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.



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54 comments
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

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. 

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

Jessy
Jessy

Im so glad my friend shared your page with me. I have recently watched the movie "Bag It" and it opened my eyes up wide to how disgusting and horrible plastic is. I have been going nuts getting rid of plastic from my life wherever possible. I've also watched a few other very informative and eye opening documentaries like "the inconvenient truth", "food inc", "the future of food", "no impact man", "the cove" and "sharkwater"... I am never buying meat ever again, I am doing my very best to buy local and organic from now on and am not going to live in a bubble anymore thinking everything is OK.

DalaLuz
DalaLuz

This is disconcerning... I never used to be a big chewing gum consumer, until I got medicines that totally dried out my all saliva. Now chewing gum is the only thing that keeps my mouth bearable, artificial saliva and other gels just dont last for more than 3 seconds. :( I have tried the all natural gums, but they just don't last. But I may reconsider my choices, it is bad enough that I have to take this medicine that has so many severe side effects on my body (wish it was only the saliva....) but I should not be adding any extra toxins!

Alannah Atley
Alannah Atley

Oh, God. I so want to not have toxins in my body. And here I was chewing gum to keep me occupied. What now? Is there no end to this poisonous commercial world we live in?

Chris
Chris

I had a teacher tell my class that swallowing gum was safe because our stomach acid could still digest it. What I'm guessing he didn't know is that we would be swallowing plastic. Yikes!

Alexandre
Alexandre

My local spice shop carries mastic (resin from a pistachio tree in Chio, Greece) in a stainless steel container. (The resin is wrapped in plastic... but it's probably the next best thing to not chewing gum)

Andrew
Andrew

Another great random pick from the archive in my twitter feed today! Of course, this one worries me a lot because I have been a big gum chewer for years. I thought it was chicle, not plastic. Now I am going to have to rethink my whole stance on gum. Thanks for the info Beth

Elaine
Elaine

I have been a gum chewer for many years until I learned about plastic being in gum. I called the Wrigley Corporation today and asked about plastic being in there product. The person I spoke to did not know anything about this and defended the product to no end. Also, I was told in so many words that I must be crazy and that he never heard this aligation before - I quickly spoke-up and stated it's all over the internet look it up. I am all about change especially after the fact of having breast cancer, I want to prevent as much as possible. I have to have some contol in what is going to go into my mouth ! There are so many plastic products, it is overwhelming to say the least !! I can take advice from this web site and slowly come to a differant awarness - it will take time. Needless to say as of today all of the plastic that is toxic is getting elimanted in my household. I will have to pick-up one habit at a time from now on. What a challenge ! Help !

Jenn
Jenn

Did you get any update from them in 2010 on the natural gum? I've never been a gum chewer - I prefer vegan caramels. *nom nom nom nom*

Brenna @ Almost All The Truth
Brenna @ Almost All The Truth

I had no idea, I am so disappointed! I was letting my 5 year old chew the Spry gum because his dentist recommended the xylitol and I thought it was natural based on ingredients, just didn't realize about the gum base. The gum keeps him from sucking his thumb. :( Guess I will just have to wait and see if Glee can make their gum without the plastics.

tiffany Sanborn
tiffany Sanborn

WOW...I talk alot at work (hairstylist) and have always chewed gum..My mouth gets dry from talking so it has become what I do. Last year I started thinking about how I try to be so health, yet what about all the chemicals in the gum I chew? That made me nervous so I cut waaaay down. With all the talking though, again, my mouth would get so dry. I don't always have a chance to stop and drink water.. so I started chewing again. After reading this article I AM DONE! thank you.. I will figure out something for my dry mouth!!!!

Manitowoc Ice Machine
Manitowoc Ice Machine

I had no idea that chewing gum can be so dangerous! They are always talking about how dangerous cigarettes are but I doubt they realize that gum contains chemicals known to cause cancer in rats. I will be switching to mints.

Kim
Kim

Hi there. Found this post interesting. Have you heard of Pur gum? Do you know if they're any better? Thanks! http://pur-gum.com

John Media @ server hosting
John Media @ server hosting

Bubble gums do have the substance called resin which makes it more like chewy and doesn't dissolve. You would not surely swallow one because It will be hard for you to digest it. So its not recommended to swallow

FrugalNut
FrugalNut

I stopped chewing gum as soon as I read this. Unbelievable, yet so believable. My fiancee chews gum to help quit smoking, and my mom tried to convince me that there's no plastic. I just forwarded this link to her, hopefully she'll rethink gum!

Gabrielle
Gabrielle

I am so disappointed to hear about Glee Gum--thought it was a natural alternative. I hate that you cannot get the truth anywhere.

Gen
Gen

I only chew gum when I fly, to help avoid ear pain. Sending this article to others I know though, especially those with kids. Thanks so much.

Dr. Fullmer
Dr. Fullmer

Xylitol is made using a nickel catalyst. Every company's report will contain some amount of nickel. I am interested in Glee's new all-natural gum base this year. I only keep gum for breath emergencies.

Kayla
Kayla

This is appalling. Thank you for this insight...I won't be chewing gum any time soon.

Pure Mothers
Pure Mothers

I haven't chewed gum in ages. It's not healthy on another level. Chewing is the first stage in digestion and chewing gum is a false alarm that food is to follow the chewing, which causes the stomach to release stomach acids. If no food comes down to digest, the acid can cause ulcers and other problems.

Tiffany
Tiffany

Ewww. I had never even thought about it.... .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..Remembering... =-.

Mike
Mike

There are a lot worse things/habits out there to be concerned about. 'Big bad gum chemicals'..boo hoo! Besides You're just gonna die anyway.

BillyO
BillyO

I remember hearing something about a component in chewing gum that they were going to ban, and then the whole thing just went away. That seems to happen a lot these days. When I was little, the gum came in little foil and paper packages with paper wrappers over foil liners. Candy bars came with paper wrappers over foil too. Now everything has to be wrapped in plastic. Back then, when you were done chewing the gum, you could fold the wrappers into jewelry. I can remember seeing many necklaces, rings and bracelets made from gum wrappers although I never was able to chew enough gum to save up enough to make anthing bigger than a ring. .-= BillyO´s last blog ..Stainless Steel Drinking Bottle (Solar System) by Crocodile Creek =-.

Emily
Emily

Yeah - yuch. It hit me some months ago 'what is gum made of anyways?' mostly because I wanted to know what "Bubble Gum" flavor really consisted of. Turns out even the flavor is chemicals - yuck! Many speculate the bubble gum flavor is a mix of cherry, banana, vanilla and spearamint. Okay, enough of that - but I learned gum is plastic! Safe or not I stopped chewing it right away - I don't know what else I thought it could possibly be. I don't let my daughter chew it either. Good article, Emily

mrs spock
mrs spock

Creepy! I've never been a gum-chewer, but if I am ever tempted- never again!

Andrea
Andrea

Almost no one knows this, but I haven't chewed gum since I was about 8 because of the germ factor- (everyone takes it out of their mouth with their hands to throw it away, and then proceed to touch everything else around them without washing their hands) so I love this. I just don't know how to break it to my almost 70 year old dad though who has chewed at a minimum 1 full pack of gum a day for my entire 38 year long life! The only smell that I associate with him is chewing gum. I'm pretty sure he won't change, nonetheless, I feel compelled to send him the link.

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 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 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.

Lnm
Lnm

Ooops, I meant March 1, 2013

Marisa
Marisa

You don't have to *not* buy meat because of factory farms and CAFOs--there are alternatives! It's called pasture-raised. Do some research and look for local farms. You may be surprised by what's around you that you never knew was there. ;)

 

Here's an example of what I mean: http://www.polyfacefarms.com/

Tai
Tai

Try eating fresh honeycomb. The honey is delicious and the wax that is left over is very similar to chewing gum (if a bit more crumbly). You can often find it at specialty stores and co-ops.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hey Jenn, I haven't gotten an update. Will you call and find out for me? I have a billion things on my To-Do list, but I want the answer!

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Kim. It's impossible to know from the ingredients list on the web site whether this one is made from plastic because it just says, "gum base." I sent and email to the company asking the question. But pretty much whenever you see "gum base," that means plastic.

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

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?

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.

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  9. [...] 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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  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. […]

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