Several companies now make biodegradable chewing gum that's free from synthetic polymers -- healthier for both humans and Earth.
Did you know that chewing gum is made from synthetic plastic? It wasn’t always that way. The original idea came from Indigenous people who chewed tree resin, but the gum we know today is made in factories using a synthetic base. The ingredients in this base are not disclosed by companies, which claim it’s proprietary information. In other words, they probably don’t want to reveal the questionable additives it contains, such as aspartame, inflammatory titanium dioxide, and possibly carcinogenic butylated hydroxyanisol (BHA). According to the Vegetarian Resource Group:
When you think of the dirty chewing gum stuck on sidewalks, park benches, and bus seats, it’s evident that synthetic chewing does not biodegrade, either. Because it’s made from plastic, chewed gum is yet another source of plastic pollution in our world, indefinitely persistent and confusing to animals.
“Most chewing gums innocuously list ‘gum base’ as one of their ingredients, masking the fact that petroleum, lanolin, glycerin, polyethylene, polyvinyl acetate, petroleum wax, stearic acid, and latex may be among the components.”
In recent years, however, a few companies have begun making gum from a natural base. This is a much better and healthier alternative to conventional gum, as it copies the ancient practice of using chicle, or tree sap, to get the desirable chewiness. Chicle is biodegradable, plastic-free, and chemical-free. The growth of this industry is a boon to rainforest farmers, as explained in Eat Drink Better:
“Chicle is a wild-harvested tree sap, meaning it grows naturally and is cultivated without harming the tree. But there’s an added benefit to using chicle: when huge corporations started to shift to using plastic in their products, the chicle industry and its farmers were left high and dry.”
Below is a list of some companies making gum with a plastic-free base. There aren’t many on the market yet.
1. Simply Gum
The founders of Simply Gum were disgusted by the fact that conventional gum is made with “the same components used in the manufacture of car tires, plastic bottles, and white glue.” Their product is handmade in New York City and contains only vegetable glycerine, raw sugar, organic rice flour, and natural flavoring.
2. Chicza Chewing Gum
Chicza is made in Mexico by chicleros. These farmers harvest the gum from Chicozapote trees in the Mayan rainforest, living trees that can produce gum continuously for up to 300 years. The gum contains only 5 ingredients. (I brought a few packs back from Mexico, when I visited several years ago, and loved Chicza. Its texture is slightly different from regular gum, but I quickly got used to it.)
3. Train Gum
Train Gum ("chew chew".... get it?!) was created in 2012 by a student who didn’t like the fact that he couldn’t read any of the ingredients on his favorite chewing gum. It’s made with 4 ingredients – chicle, simple syrup, natural oils, and rice flour – and comes wrapped in paper twists in a muslin bag.
4. Glee Gum
Glee Gum has recently changed its base formula to plastic-free. It’s been a long process, but owner Deborah Schimberg told Beth Terry of My Plastic-Free Life that consumer pressure was strong enough to warrant the change. The new base is made from chicle, calcium carbonate, candelilla wax, and citrus peels. Better yet, Glee Gum is available in biodegradable packaging, which means no more awful blister packs.