Is chewing gum biodegradable?

In this article we will talk about the biodegradability of chewing gums, their chemical compositions and their impact on the environment and human health. This article will also shed light on the history of chewing gum and the polymers it is made up of.

Is chewing gum biodegradable?

No, chewing gum is not biodegradable. Conventional chewing gum contains plastic and therefore it is not completely biodegradable. This argument can be supported by seeing the chewing gum present on the sidewalks, under the tables or benches and streets. The blackened wads of the gum remain untouched by nature for several years. The chewing gums contain polyvinyl acetate and polyisobutylene rubber bases which cannot be broken down naturally.

What is the history of chewing gums?

The history of chewing gums dates back to ancient Europe. The Europeans would chew the birch bark for enjoyment purposes and to reduce pain while on the other hand many Americans would chew spruce tree resin.

A substance called chicle was very famous in central and south America. Chicle would clean the teeth and would freshen the breath. It did not even break easily in the mouth.

Modern gum was first invented by Thomas Adams in the 1800s that used chicle in it as the main ingredient. Slowly the demand for gums started to increase which eventually resulted in the decreasing amount of chicle. Chicle came from sapodilla trees and farmers started to use ineffective harvesting methods to grow chicle. By the end of 1930 most of the sapodilla trees had died.

What is the chemical composition of modern chewing gums?

Modern chewing gums were initially made from paraffin wax and petroleum based materials. This made the chewing gums long lasting without it breaking down.

Modern chewing gum contains four main ingredients that allot gum its texture, flavor and bounce.

  • Calcium carbonates and talc are used as fillers to give it a satisfying heft.
  • Stretch is added to the gum by the help of polymers. These polymers are polyvinyl acetate to form the gum base.
  • Flavors, stickiness and colors are added to the gum with the help of emulsifiers.
  • Vegetable oil is added to the gum to make it chewy instead of stiff.

All of these ingredients are added to the mixer where the chewing gum is kneaded like bread. The gum is then rolled into sheets or small blocks and is packaged after being cooled down. The ingredients used in chewing gums have long shelf life and there is no concept of expiration date when it comes to chewing gums.

What are the characteristics of chewing gums?

Certain characteristics are associated with chewing gums: chewiness, stickiness, bubble-blowing capacity and flavor release.

Polymers that consist of chewing gums are hydrophobic in nature, this means they are resistant to water. These polymers retain the shape of chewing gums during the chewing process for this reason the gums remain intact while they are being chewed.

Gums are attracted to oil, it forms bonds to oily surfaces once it comes in contact with them, for this reason they are seen everywhere such as on sidewalks. They also get attached to skin and hair for the same reason. 

One of the drawbacks of chewing gum polymers is that once it is attached to a particular surface it does not get removed easily but ends up being stretched.

Bubbles from chewing gum are formed when the polymers act against constant and dispersed air pressure.  Chewing gums contain artificial flavors and sweeteners with highest solubility. For this reason a person can taste them the most during the first four minutes. Some chewing gum companies are striving hard to make the flavor of chewing gums extremely long lasting.

What are the health benefits of chewing gums?

There are different ways through which chewing gums impact human health. These are:

  • Chewing gums improves brain function. They enhance different types of memories such as working memories and episodic memories along with the perception speed. However this impact is temporary and only lasts for 15-20 minutes after the gum has been chewed.
  • Sugar free chewing gums play a role in decreasing the cavities and plaque. The gum not only enhances the breath but also plays a part in removing small food particles from the teeth.
  • Chewing gums also play a role in medicine. They are useful when it comes to pelvic or open abdomen surgery. Chewing gums also help the patient to recover from colon surgeries.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease can also be treated by chewing gums. This is because more bicarbonate containing saliva is produced that increases the rate of swallowing.

How are chewing gums hazardous to human health?

Chewing gums are hazardous to human health in a variety of ways. Chewing gums can easily increase a person’s junk food intake. According to research a lot of people chew gum in order to reduce different food cravings but end up promoting the intake of less nutritious food. This is mainly because of the different fruity flavors of the chewing gums.

Chewing gums have the potential to promote temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) in the jaw. TMJ is a chronic condition and is linked with pain such as headaches, toothaches, earaches and contracted muscles.

Gastrointestinal problems are also linked with excessive chewing of gum. Chewing gum causes abdominal pain and bloating because excessive air is swallowed while the gum is being chewed. 

While the gum is being chewed the brain signals the body that the food is about to enter the body because of these reasons the enzymes and acids become activated and are released. Stomach acid is also produced and may cause stomach ulcers.

Chewing gum despite promoting oral hygiene has the tendency to cause tooth damage. Chewing gums containing sugar covers the teeth while it is being chewed which leads to tooth decay. 

Sugar free chewing gums contain different acids and may cause dental erosion. Dental erosion is a process of constant incremental decalcification which eventually ends up dissolving teeth.

Chewing gums also cause headaches because of TMJ headaches can also be caused by aspartame exposure.

What are the environmental consequences of chewing gums?

There are tons of environmental consequences of chewing gums. The production of chewing gums is related to several environmental consequences which may cause significant problems.

The production of chewing gums involves the usage of petroleum and fossil fuels. Petroleum extraction is a major environmental concern because it adds to air, water and land pollution. Even the processing of petroleum is a major concern for the environment.

Most of the chewing gum is disposed improperly. This shows that several thousand pounds of chewing gum is being added to the litter stream.

Chewing gum is mostly mistaken as food by different land and aquatic animals. Some of the chewing gums also contain toxins which if ingested can be extremely harmful to the animals. Chewing gums also clog their digestive systems.

Chewing gums also play a role in air pollution. When the trash is burned the synthetic plastic present in the gums ends up releasing harmful chemicals in the air. When these toxic fumes are ingested they may cause asthma and endocrine disruption.

Human reproductive health is also impacted by the chewing gums because of phthalates present in them.

Frequently asked questions, “Is chewing gum biodegradable?”

Why do people chew gum?

People chew gum for a variety of reasons. It could be because they want to freshen their breath or relieve hunger for the time being. A lot of people also chew gum to release stress and anxiety.

Why cannot chewing gum be swallowed?

Chewing gum cannot be swallowed because the digestive system lacks the ability to tolerate and degrade the chewing gum. If swallowed accidentally it will leave the body one way or another but constantly chewing gum can lead to intestinal blockage and formation of stones which can completely destroy the digestive system.

Do all chewing gums contain plastic?

No, not all of the chewing gums contain plastic. A lot of chewing gum companies do not contain polyvinyl acetate. Sometimes instead of polyvinyl acetate companies tend to use even more dangerous compounds such as petroleum or latex.

If chewing gum is hazardous to the environment, should people stop chewing them altogether?

Chewing gum is indeed hazardous to the environment. It is better to stop buying from very popular brands because most of them contain plastic in their chewing gums. Also their chewing gums contain extreme amounts of sugar which have zero benefits unless someone is dealing with anxiety.

It is better to opt for brands which promote eco-friendly chewing gums. These chewing gums do not contain any synthetic products and are organic and biodegradable in nature.

What is the role of artificial sweeteners in chewing gums?

Artificial sweeteners are added to chewing gums to enhance their flavor. These artificial sweeteners are harmful to human health in one way or another. Sugar-free chewing gums also contain artificial sweeteners; it is not like they are not linked to them.

Aspartame is one of the most common artificial sweeteners used in chewing gums. Aspartame once enters the body and acts as a poison and a carcinogen. This particular product is associated with several birth defects and cancers.

Splenda or sucralose is also an artificial sweetener added in chewing gums. In males it is responsible for causing infertility, enlarged kidneys and increased death rate. Artificial sweeteners also disrupt the biochemical processes in the human body and can lead to potential weight gain.

Artificial sweeteners promote more weight gain as compared to normal sugars by increasing the appetite, cravings and increased fat storage.

What ingredients of chewing gums should we avoid?

Chewing gums contain several ingredients which should be avoided. These are:

Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners promote several health hazards such as obesity, birth defects, cancers and increased death rate.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): BHT is a preservative added in chewing gums and is associated with organ toxicity such as liver and kidney damage. It is also carcinogenic in nature.

Calcium phosphate: it is highly processed and is used as a texturizer. It is one of the potential causes of autoimmune diseases.

Gum base: gum base primarily contains resins, plasticizers, fillers and elastomers. All of these products are made up of petroleum and paraffin wax.

Titanium dioxide: it is also a whitening agent used in chewing gums. This product is also carcinogenic and promotes autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease and asthma.

How long does chewing gum remain in the environment?

Chewing gum being non-biodegradable remains in the environment for extremely long. It almost takes 5-1000 years for a chewing gum to decompose completely.

References:

  • Mercola. 6 disturbing side effects of chewing gum. Organic.org. retrieved from:
  • Jones, D. (2017, July 18). Chewing gum – 100,000 tones of plastic pollution every year. Justoneocean. Retrieved from:
  • Roy A. S. Improper Disposal of Non-Biodegradable Chewing Gum is One of the Biggest Threats to Our Ecology: A Review. Curr World Environ 2021;16(3). DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.12944/CWE.16.3.22
  • Krosofsky, A. (2020, December 1). Is gum made out of plastic? Check out these eco-friendly alternatives. Greenmatters. Retrieved from:
https://www.greenmatters.com/p/is-gum-plastic
  • Rudy, L. (2021, august 11). Is chewing gum biodegradable? A look at its ingredients. Treehugger, retrieved from:
https://www.treehugger.com/is-chewing-gum-biodegradable-5187955

What was missing from this post which could have made it better?

Leave a Comment