I don’t do chewing gum because not only does it come packed in plastic, it is actually made from plastic. Yes, while there are a few natural gums on the market  most chewing gums are actually synthetic…. plastic in fact.

As I am sure you know, chewing gum is a non-nutritive, non-digestible, water-insoluble substance that can be chewed, (duh!), without disintegrating, for a long period of time.

And that it consists of an elastomer, a chewy base, with added sweeteners and  flavours to make the experience more pleasant.

Up until WWII, the chewing gum base was usually made from chicle  a latex sap that comes from the sapodilla tree –  a  natural rubber. This has since been replaced with synthetic rubber, a plastic.

Which Elastomer

Elastomers in gum are what give it the chew.

These used to be and occasionally still are natural latexes such as couma macrocarpa (also called leche caspi or serve), loquat (also called nispero),tunu, elution and the most popular, chicle.

These days most elastomers are synthetic rubbers such as butyl rubber

The raw materials for making butyl rubber are isobutylene and isoprene. Isoprene is a byproduct of  naphtha or oil, and as a side product in the production of ethylene.

Other Stuff

Other ingredients according to Wikipedia  may include the following:

  • Resins: provide a cohesive body or strength, and are most often glycerol esters of gum, terpene resins, and/or polyvinyl acetate ( more about the latter below).
  • Waxes: act as softening agents and are most usually paraffin or microcrystalline wax.
  • Fats: behave as plasticizers and mainly come from hydrogenated vegetable oils.
  • Emulsifiers: help to hydrate, the most common being lecithin or glycerol monostearate.
  • Fillers: impart texture and the most commonly used are calcium carbonate or talc.
  • Antioxidants: protect from oxidation and extend shelf-life; the most common type is BHT.

The Gum Association says

Gum base ” is made of a combination of food-grade polymers, waxes and softeners that give gum the texture desired by consumers and enable it to effectively deliver sweetness, flavor and various other benefits, including dental benefits.

What are polymers?

A polymer is a string of molecules (monomers) that usually contain carbon and hydrogen. Polymers are found naturally in the human body, animals, plants, and minerals. For example, DNA is a polymer, as are the proteins and starches in the foods we eat.

Man-made polymers can be identical in structure to those found in the natural environment, but in many cases, these polymers provide guaranteed consistency, quality and purity that are not always found in some natural materials. This quality is particularly important for food-grade polymers used as ingredients.

What are food-grade polymers?

Food-grade polymers have been rigorously tested and have been determined to be safe for use in food. In chewing gum, polymers are what provide gum with its basic elastic properties. All polymers used in gum are food-grade and are legally permitted for use by international/national regulatory agencies, including those in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

You can read more about synthetic polymers here.

Safe To Chew?

So are these food grade plastics gums with their paraffin and  yummy vinyl acetate additive  are safe?  Well plastic and paraffin certainly don’t sound appetising and vinyl acetate was once  classified by the Canadian Government as a “potentially high hazard substance.” This was later overturned (2010) under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). The decision was based on information received during the public comment period, and  from the risk assessment conducted by the European Union.

Environmental Hazard?

YES!!! Because it is plastic, gum doesn’t biodegrade – which means it has to be carefully disposed of – either landfilled or incinerated. If it ends up on the street as much of it does, it sticks like mad to the pavement and looks really ugly. It needs to be specially removed – which costs a lot. “The LGA (Local Government Authority points out that the average piece of gum costs about 3p to buy – but 50 times that to clean up (£1.50). Most chewing gum never biodegrades and once it is trodden into the pavement this requires specialised equipment to remove. “

Natural Gums

If you cant give up gum there are some natural gums out there. I have not tried these so please let me know how they taste. And I guess they come plastic packed. Again do let me know.

Peppersmith U.K. do a natural based gum.

It contains Xylitol (wood sugar), Natural chicle gum base, Peppermint oil, Calcium carbonate, Gum arabic (thickner), Rapeseed lecithin (emulsifier), Vegetable glycerol (humectant), Carnauba wax (glazing agent).Suitable for vegetarians.

You can buy it at Holland & Barrett, other stores and of course on line.

Here is a review of 8 of the healthier chews available in the U.S.

Sneaky Plastics

Here are some more products that surprisingly contain plastic.

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