Chewing-Gum In The UK: A Mexican Solution To A Sticky Problem?

Since March 2009, a new type of chewing-gum has been on sale in Britain’s 200 Waitrose stores. Retailed as ‘Chicza’ , it is supposedly organic, biogradable, is no stickier than Blu Tack and  dissolves in the rain from pavements after only a month – unlike its  rivals , which can survive for up to five years. The latex is extracted from the chicozapote trees in Mexico’s Gran Peten  rainforest, then boiled to form the new product. According to the ‘Consorcio Chiclero’, their revived business now supports  2,000 farmers and their families – about 10,000 people. If all the claims about ‘Chicza’ prove accurate, this will be welcome news for local authorities across the UK who currently have to spend £413 million p.a. to clear 3.5 million ‘spat-out blobs of gunk’ from the nation’s streets.

There are an estimated 28 million ‘chewers’ in Britain (one third of the population) who spend £250 million on a billion packets each year.  The Wrigleys Company dominates the market both in the UK (88% share) and 180 other countries. Their main domestic competitor is Cadbury Schweppes with just 12% of sales in this sector. A Leatherhead International survey has indicated that the global industry is now worth over 11 billion euros p.a. and that  North America accounts for 24% of world-wide chewing-gum consumption. Singapore banned imports completely in 1992 then later (2004), under pressure from Wrigleys and the US Government, revised the law to allow in gum that has ” therapeutic value”. Meanwhile, ‘The Daily Telegraph’ has reported that it would cost Westminster Council £9 million p.a. to “comprehensively clean-up” the whole of the borough’s 8.5 square miles. As they can’t afford this, they instead have to limit their efforts to Oxford Street and Leicester Square for a more modest expenditure of £100,000 p.a. Their Environment Director, Dr Leith Penny, has pointed out that it can take 17 weeks to wash & scrape 300,000 ‘blobs’ off  Oxford Street but only 10 days for the area to be covered again by discarded gum. He feels that  even the month Chicza takes to dissolve is too long and has more hopes for ‘Rev7′, an “easy-to-remove” gum being tested by Revolymer, a Bristol-based company.

Chizca is apparently harder to chew initially, is double the price (£1.39p for 12 squares) but contains more natural chicle than ‘established’ gums. Most of these now consist mainly of the same petrol-based polymer ingredient used in car tyres, to make them more durable and “stretchy”. The Chewing Gum Action Group emphasises that – whatever the brand – improperly disposed gum renders offenders liable to prosecution under the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act 2005 . The Liberal Democrats have proposed a ‘gum tax’ and putting an anti-litter warning  on the packets. The 10th International Congress of Behavioural Medicine in Tokyo last year, however, confirmed the widespread view that chewing gum ” helps reduce anxiety & stress levels and improves alertness”. This would certainly seem to apply to the UK’s most renowned chewer, Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United Manager. He reputedly gets through 18 packets during a match, though he is (unusually) beaten by  Sam Allardyce (Blackburn Rovers’ Manager) who is said to consume 27 packets between kick-off and the final whistle. Scientists at Imperial College, London, have been developing an ant-obesity chewing gum containing a drug (based on the pancreatic polypeptide hormone) which makes the stomach feel full. The US Army Dental Research Department in Illinois has invented a gum which cleans the teeth of people who are “too busy to brush them” and so gives them a “holiday” from toothpaste “for at least a couple of days.”

Not everyone will benefit if Chicza or Rev7 prove successful.  Sales of  ‘Bye Bye Gum’ Remover Foam will suffer. There will  be far less demand for the services of  the ‘Go-Gum Street Cleansing Team’ or  ‘Gumblast UK’ (” We uniquely use dry ice propelled at high speed to lift the gum away”). They would undoubtedly prefer chewing gum to stay where it is. Until, of course, they are called in to get rid of it.

Filed under: Society | Posted on May 12th, 2009 by Colin D Gordon

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