July 26, 2022
Last Thursday I decided to go to the local market to pick up a few items. What I was really after were electronics. The mouse on my mouse/keyboard combo was fritzing and driving me crazy. I also needed to pick up a mouse for one of the work computers, as well as ink cartridges for my printer. When I went into the market it was overcast but still temperatures were hovering around 100F (38C). I got the items I needed and then putzed around looking for ways to kill time as much as to find whatever food items I wanted. I sent a message asking Melissa if she needed anything but never heard the responding ping on my phone. I purchased what I knew we needed and as I walked out of the market it began to rain. This was not a light rain, but a steady shower. It seemed everyone else was also slowly walking in the rain enjoying the coolness. I popped open the door of the jeep and started to put my items in the back seat. Then I looked down and saw I had stepped in a wad of gum someone had spit onto the hot pavement. It took several minutes for me to scrape it off my shoe. I am sure I am not the only one who hates this.
When I looked online, I found chewing gum is a soft, cohesive substance designed to be chewed without being swallowed. Modern chewing gum is composed of gum base, sweeteners, softeners/plasticizers, flavors, colors, and, typically, a hard or powdered polyol coating. Although chewing gum can be traced back to civilizations around the world, the modernization and commercialization of gum mainly took place in the US. The Indigenous Americans chewed resin made from the sap of spruce trees and the New England settlers picked up the practice. John B. Curtis developed and sold the first commercial chewing gum in 1848, calling it The State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. A paraffin wax gum (a petroleum based product) was developed in 1850 and soon exceeded the spruce gum in popularity. The chewer would often use a plate of powdered sugar to repeatedly dip the gum into to maintain its sweetness. Today, flavor delivery is extended throughout chewing by timed release of different flavor components in the properties of the gum’s ingredients. When the gum loses its flavor; people tend to spit it out.
Mayan farmers in the states of Campeche and Quintana Roo have become players in the global chewing gum market with their unique organic product marketed as Chicza Organic Rainforest Gum. This (Vegan, Gluten Free, Kosher, Sustainable) biodegradable chewing gum was launched in 2009 and has since expanded to 26 European countries, Canada, and the US. As members of Indigenous rainforest communities, Chicleros sustainably manage these ancient ecosystems as they harvest chicle for their livelihood. According to the website, when you chew Chicza, you are supporting the livelihood of a Chiclero and his family. In return, the Chiclero continues to preserve the forest where the family lives. There are 56 cooperatives made up of roughly 2,000 Chicleros and their families (more than 10,000 Indigenous people) working in an area of 3.2 million acres of rainforest. When disposed of, the gum takes about six months to degrade into a white powder.
Thoughts: While gum is designed to be chewed and not swallowed, it is generally not harmful if it is swallowed. The folk tale that swallowed gum will sit in your stomach for seven years before it can be digested is not true. While the body cannot digest the gum it does pass it through your digestive system relatively intact. When gum is spit out it can become a major waste problem. A study in the United Kingdom estimates it costs as high as 400 million pounds (US$600 million) a year to clean up discarded gum. Gum is a problem in the environment because it is not biodegradable, and it is notoriously difficult to clean up. That is why I have refused to spit out my gum for several decades. Perhaps I should just go biodegradable. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.