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, 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 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According to Chemistry.About.com, chewing gum was originally made from tree sap called chicle, a natural rubber, and sometimes various waxes.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 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. In fact, check out the US FDA’s complete list of possible ingredients that can be included in gum base: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=172.615
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
So, does chewing gum without plastic exist?
02/25/2017 UPDATE: At the time this article was originally written in January of 2010, there were no completely plastic-free chewing gum choices. Since then, a few have come on the market. But whether or not they catch on is another story. I will continue to update this page as new information becomes available.
Peppersmith: In 2012, I discovered this English brand of chewing gum (with both plastic-free packaging and plastic-free ingredients) and touted it heavily. Sadly, in 2014, the company reformulated the chewing gum to include plastic in its gum base, so I can no longer recommend it. Read more about Peppersmith chewing gum here.
Simply Gum: In 2014, I learned of Simply Gum. It is still on the market with plastic-free gum base and packaging. The only downside is that all of the Simply Gum flavors are sweetened with sugar, which many gum chewers are trying to avoid. Read more about Simply Gum here.
Green Tree Gum Co: In 2015, I reviewed plastic-free, sugar-free Green Tree gum. Since then, the company has gone out of business and the website has been taken down. You can read my original review of Green Tree chewing gum here.
Spry Gum: Many readers have mentioned Spry gum to me because the gum base is reported to be all natural. So I emailed the company a few days after this post was published and received the following response, “We currently use a gum base that is derived from the sap of jelutong trees in Southeast Asia. We have found this source to be better than the synthetic one derived from petroleum by-products since it does not stick to dental work.” That’s great, but I have not reviewed or recommended Spry because the packaging and containers are all made from plastic.
Xylichew: Readers have also mentioned Xylichew, but like Spry, it only comes in a plastic bottle or a plastic blister pack, so I don’t plan to review or recommend it.
Peelu: Contains synthetic chemicals. According to account specialist Phillip Ellingson, the gum base “is very similar to any gum base you would find in any gum. There are plasticizers and elasticizers, which give the gum the chewy consistency, but you do not swallow those ingredients. The gum base specifically for our gums is not all natural, but the ingredients you ingest are. The Peelu dental gum is latex and petroleum free.” [05/21/2012 Update: In a follow-up email, Phillip confirms that the gum base does contain polyvinyl acetate.]
Chicza: A certified organic natural brand whose gum base is made with 100% chicle. However, it does contain sugar. At the time I originally wrote this post, it was not available in the U.S. It’s now available in the United States, as well as Mexico, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. It’s also available on Amazon. As for the packaging, according to the Amazon seller, “Picture a chocolate bar- there are 8 squares of gum, but all one piece (you sort of break off each piece you want to chew) and that one piece of 8 is in plastic packaging.”
Train Gum: Train gum contains chicle, natural oils for flavoring, simple syrup, and rice flour. The gum comes in a reusable muslin bag. Each piece is individually wrapped, but I’m not sure what the wrapper is made from. I have emailed the company and will post an update when I find out.
Glee Gum: As of the original writing of this post, Glee Gum was touted as being made with natural chicle; however, the company also included plastics in its gum base. (See my original write up of Glee Gum below.) Since then, Glee has reformulated both its sugared and sugar-free gums to be completely plastic-free! Read about all new plastic-free Glee Gum here.
History of Glee Gum’s gum base
What follows is my original posting about plastic in Glee Gum. I’m leaving it here for historical archive purposes. Click the link above to read my review of the new, plastic-free version.
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, 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 substances we’re putting into our bodies and whether or not they’re truly safe.