I first wrote about plastic in chewing gum in January of 2010. At that time, there really was no brand of gum available that didn’t either contain plastic in the packaging or in the gum itself. And as I wrote back then, even Glee Gum, one of the most natural brands in town, was combining plastic with the natural chicle in its gum base.
Company owner Deborah Schimberg told me that she really wanted to get the plastic out of the gum base, but that it was difficult to find a natural substitute. She hoped to find an alternative later that year. Well, it’s taken longer than she expected, but finally, in 2015, Glee was able to offer plastic-free chewing gum in its original sugar-sweetened flavors and more recently in its sugar-free flavors as well. The company sent me a few packs to try out, and while I’m not much of a gum chewer, Michael thinks it’s great!
Challenges of Developing a Plastic-Free Chewing Gum Base
I asked Deborah about the challenges of creating a completely plastic-free gum base. Here’s her response:
We had always wanted the indigestible part of our gum – the gum base – to be as natural as the rest of our gum. And, we wanted to keep making it with chicle, a sustainably harvested rainforest tree sap.
This, however, proved to be a big challenge. We could come up with various recipes that would work with small batches, made by hand, in our home kitchens. But because we sell millions of boxes of gum a year, our gum is made at a big production facility. We couldn’t come up with a recipe that would work on that scale.
What finally enabled us to make the transition to a new, 100% natural, chicle gum base was finding and hiring the right food chemist. This was no mean feat because we needed someone who was both knowledgeable in gum formulation – a relatively niche market – and was familiar with the use of chicle – a highly specialized ingredient. With his help, and a good deal of trial and error, we were able to realise our dream. Our new gum base is made predominantly of chicle, with just three additional, natural ingredients: calcium carbonate, candelilla wax, and a pinch of dehydrated citrus peels.
Researching and transitioning to a new gum base recipe required a significant investment of time, energy, and funds. After we pinpointed the right recipe, we then needed to change all of our packaging to reflect the new ingredients. Using more chicle in our gum base than we had before also necessitated our learning how to deal with all the variations that can occur from harvest to harvest and batch to batch. Natural ingredients like chicle can be affected by moisture, temperature, and more; synthetic materials are usually designed to be immune to such factors.
(You can view an interactive slideshow showing the entire production process from extraction of the natural chicle through packaging of the finished gum.)
Secretiveness of the Plastics Industry
One reason Glee wanted to change its formula was to be able to be completely transparent about its ingredients. Their old website FAQ had this description of the 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!
I’ve written many times on this site and in my book about how secretive the plastics industry is regarding its proprietary formulae. It’s nearly impossible to find out what chemicals are used in any particular plastic product, which is why it’s so hard to know if any particular plastic product is actually safe or not. Gum base is just one more example. Deborah wrote:
A major part of what fueled us on this mission was appreciation for our customers. We have always strived to be transparent with them. So, we have always wanted to list the exact contents of our gum base on our labels. That was never going to be possible with a conventional gum base purchased from a big gum base supplier – even when that gum base was made partially with chicle, like the gum base we used to use. Manufacturers consider gum base recipes to be proprietary. We’re so happy and proud to be able to list the ingredients in our gum base on our labels now, to show that they are plastic-free and natural, unlike almost all other gum on the market today.
Glee Customers Drove This Change!
Molly Lederer, Glee Director of Communications & Marketing, shared with me that after all these years, the company is still getting calls and emails from My Plastic-Free Life readers asking about plastic in the gum base. (Don’t worry — I have now updated my 2010 post!) It’s true that Glee has wanted to eliminate synthetic ingredients for a very long time, but I’m sure that hearing from customers has helped drive this change. Our communications with companies matter!
Why not contact Glee to thank them for going plastic-free?
Purchasing Glee Gum
Glee is offering My Plastic-Free Life readers a 15% discount off everything at GleeGum.com.
Coupon code: PLASTICFREE
(Enter coupon code in the lower left of your shopping cart on GleeGum.com & hit “apply coupon.” One time only. Offer ends 12/31/17 at 11:59 pm ET.)
You can also purchase Glee gum from local merchants, and it’s available on Amazon, but I’m not sure whether Amazon is carrying the new formulation. It looks to me like several listings are still showing the old packaging. This is what the new packaging looks like:
Also, be aware that in addition to its completely plastic-free cardboard packaging, Glee also offers gum in plastic bags, so be careful when ordering.
Win a Box of Glee Sugar-Free Gum
If you’ve read this far, you could be in for a treat! I’m giving away four boxes of Glee sugar-free gum: two peppermint flavor and two wild watermelon flavor. Leave a comment below letting me know which flavor you’d like. I’ll choose four random winners in two weeks.
Have you already tried Glee’s plastic-free gum? Which flavor did you try and what did you think of it?