Gummy Sidewalk Waste

imagesBen Wilson at least decorates what others thoughtlessly discard.

According to an article in Scientific America, chewing gum is edible.  It is not usually wise to swallow it though due to gum-based gastrointestinal blockages.  

images-259% of Americans chew more than 280 sticks of gum per year creating a $19billion world wide industry.  Since most people don’t swallow their chewed gum, a visible amount of it ends up on our sidewalks.   Chewing gum does not break down so it accumulates as the dominant dark dot grounded smooth by pedestrians across our urban landscapes.

Chewing without swallowing has existed since the Neolithic period.  5,000-year-old chewing gum made from birch bark tar, was found in KierikkiYli-IiFinland.  The Greeks chewed mastic gum.  The Wampanoag American Indians who inspired our Thanksgiving tradition chewed resin gum.   The Mayans chewed chicle based gum.

Why chew gum?  The sociobiological implications are not clear.

The people who make chewing gum have long touted it as an enjoyable diversion that gives us white teeth and makes us smile and ride bicycles with our twins.  Many use it for stress relief, to freshen breathe, to overcome food cravings, to make new friends, to get smarter and for the flavor.

Today the chewing gum industry is not even close to the natural plants our ancestors used. In fact, the overwhelming majority of gums are filled with toxic chemicals, artificial colors, sweeteners and flavors all under the ingredient gum base.

Cleaning up the sticky mess left on public spaces poses some time consuming and expensive challenges.  More than other litter which can be picked up or is quickly degraded by the weather, chewing gum, with its glue-like characteristics, is regarded as environmentally damaging.

Independent Singapore was a country with few resources when Prime Minister Lee launched a strict plan to make gum chewing illegal and punishable.  It didn’t take long for the world to recognize the desirability of a clean city.

At Disneyland, the real work starts  after all of the attractions shut down and the custodians begin their nightly chewing gum removal from all of their walks and streets.

The Brits spend $13K a cleaning to remove the gum in Trafalgar Square or three times more than the cost of each stick of gum before it became a blotch.

The Frick Collection, New York’s premier art museum, includes degumming their walks on housekeeping’s job description along with the care and cleaning of its prestigious galleries and library.

NYC  requires property owners to clean and sweep the sidewalks and gutters next to their property, including 18″ into the street but there is no specific law about gum litter.  People can report dirty sidewalks.

Gum removal is a difficult job that requires power washing machines and lots of water.   GumBusters  are NYC’s experts because they use dry steam.   These guys are my heroes!

In Seattle, they dealseattle-gum-wall1 with gum in a whole different way.   Just stick it on the walls in  Post Alley, under Pike Place Market.

How You Can Help:

  • Discard your gum responsibly.
  • Report sidewalks that need attention.
  • Consider alternatives to gum chewing for healthier lives and cleaner streets.
  • Make kids aware of how gum sticks to everything.

Until next week:      images-3

Garbage Girl


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