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To many middle school students, gum is a hot commodity. But, what many people, fully grown or not, fail to consider is, what is gum made of? Although technically not ingested, gum is still edible. Consumers probably know that the sticky, breath-freshening substance is often made with artificial flavors and color. However, not many seem to have asked the question, am I chewing on plastic when I chew my gum?
The short answer is yes, there is plastic in gum. An ingredient listed as “gum base” in many gum formulas is plastic, and it’s the aspect of the gum that gives it its chewiness. Most supermarket gum’s gum base is a mix of plastic and different chemicals, including polyethylene, which can be found in plastic bags and bottles, according to plasticchange.org.
According to an Iceland-commissioned study, 85% of people didn’t know there was plastic in gum. Unsurprisingly, the plastic in gum can have a negative impact on the environment. The small stains left from gum that used to be stuck to the sidewalk contain microplastics, that can then end up in drains that filter into the ocean according to a report from Metro. Littered gum became such a problem in Singapore, that in 1992, they banned chewing gum, according to BBC.
People have been enjoying the oral fixation of gum for centuries. The ancient Greeks chewed on resin from the mastic tree, called mastiche. Later, in the aftermath of World War II, chemists developed synthetic rubber, replacing natural rubber which was previously the base for chewing gum, according to The Ecologist.
Around 374 billion pieces of gum are produced each year, a market worth $5 billion. Fortunately, there are eco-friendly alternatives for gum-lovers who don’t want to chew on plastic.
Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She’s a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.
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