15 Mar 2013

Blobs of Gum

We all do it every day. 
But who did it first? And when?

People worldwide have chewed gum for hundreds of years. Resin from certain types of trees, various sweet grasses, leaves, grains and waxes have evolved over many years into the flavored gums we know today.

The ancient Greeks chewed mastic gum for centuries. Formed from the resin found in the bark of the mastic tree in Greece and Turkey, Grecian women chewed it to clean their teeth and sweeten their breath.

The Indians of New England taught American colonists to quench their thirst by chewing the gum-like resin bleeding from spruce trees. In the early 1800s spruce gum blobs were sold in the eastern United States, making it America's first commercial chewing gum. Sweetened paraffin wax became an acceptable alternative around 1850 and eventually surpassed spruce gum in popularity.

Modern gum products evolved from a chicle-based gum brought to the United States in the early 1860s. Chicle is derived from the milky juice (latex) of the sapodilla tree that grows in tropical rain forests of Central America. This tree is found mainly in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize.

Everyone liked chewing the gum so demand for chicle rose quickly. But, as suppliers soon realized, their supply was limited by the trees from which it was derived. The trees needed an average of four to eight years of rest between tappings. That’s when manufacturers turned to synthetic gum bases to continue their business. Paraffin, originally discovered in 1830, was an option as it is colorless, odorless, tasteless and plentiful, but others kept searching for a better material.

Today, gum base is made of man-made latex and divided into two major categories, chewing and bubble gum, with the latter having more elasticity. In recent years, nonstick gum bases for chewing and bubble gums have been formulated to satisfy the chewing needs of more consumers.

An important fact to remember, as you are chomping away, is that chewing gum is not biodegradable! As we just saw, the gum base we chew can be separated into different, but relatively similar categories. Essentially, it is either made up of plastic, rubber, or wax. Subsequently, chewing gum will not simply dissolve or disappear after a few weeks, or even years! Because of this, it is important not to throw your gum on the ground outside. Wait until you see a trash can, or swallow it so it can pass through you, undigested, and be disposed of that way.

Given that, among many others around the world, Americans alone chew, on average, 160 -180 pieces or about 1.8 lbs of gum per person, per year, the resulting waste is estimated to add up to more than 250,000 tons annually! Just think of all those blobs of gum we all see on sidewalks everywhere, every day.

Perhaps we should all consider what Singapore has done. Chewing gum is banned in Singapore under the "Regulation of Imports and Exports (Chewing Gum) Regulations." Except for chewing gum of therapeutic value, the "importing" of chewing gum into Singapore is banned. Gum can be bought from a doctor, but must be prescribed. The ban on chewing gum in Singapore can be considered an extension of the littering law. Therefore, the act of chewing gum in Singapore is associated with similar penalties to those imposed for littering. The littering law requires a fine of $500 to $1,000 US Dollars (USD) for first time offenders. Repeat offenders may be fined up to $2,000 USD and assigned a Corrective Work Order (CWO).  Beats getting buried under tons of gum!  


Anonymous said...

Well, who woulda thunk? Yuck! I remember Chicklets gum, so I wonder if it was made from the chicles trees. This is all so interesting. And no gum in China! Those fines are pretty steep. I seldom chew gum anymore. It sucks to step in gum, doesn't it? What a fun post!

amisadai said...

This is cool! I've been learning about products of the rainforests and gum from the chicle tree. You get it like you do latex from a rubber tree. I've just written all about the rubber process on my blog. http://mongergirls.blogspot.com
Thanks! Amisadai