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Health

Is your chewing gum made of plastic?

August 20th 2021 / 0 comment

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Images: @chewsygum and Unsplash

Regular chewing gum contains the same amount of plastic as a plastic straw. Here's why we're swapping to plastic-free chewing gum

With the advent of shampoo bars, refillable beauty buys and metal straws, it's easier now to make small but incremental inroads into our everyday plastic use. But have you ever considered by chewing gum, you could be contributing to plastic waste more than you realise?

“Chewing gum contains polyethene, the same plastic found in carrier bags and water bottles and may release harmful toxins into your bloodstream,” says Keir Carnie, founder of plastic-free chewing gum brand Nuud, who appeared on the BBC's Dragon’s Den in July 20201. He asked for a £50,000 investment but none of the Dragons took the bait, worried that big brands would start going plastic-free and take over Nuud’s niche. Keir had the last laugh though, Nuud plastic-free chewing gum, £1.50, is now sold in Waitrose, Nisa and Costcutter.

Plastic is added to chewing gum to make it chewy. On the ingredients list, it's hidden under the term ‘gum base’, Keir tells us. “Every piece of regular chewing gum contains the same amount of plastic as a plastic straw,” he claims.

With eight out of ten of us trying to reduce our plastic waste, according to a survey by pollution campaign group City to Sea, it’s no surprise we’re seeing the rise of plastic-free chewing gum. It's made using tree sap called chicle rather than polyethene, which early chewing gums were also made of. Chicle keeps your gum chewy but is also biodegradeable.

It might seem easier to just abandon chewing gum rather than looking for sustainable alternatives, but dentists say that chewing gum is good for our teeth. Dr Uchenna Okoye of the London Smiling Dental Practice told us "chewing gum helps us produce saliva, which has mineral salts to help repair the teeth." Many gums also contain the sweetener xylitol, which has been shown to neutralise the acid that cause plaque and thereby reducing dental decay. Uchenna advises only chewing it until the flavour has disappeared though, otherwise, you could be causing tension in your jaw muscles.

Dragon's Den investor Deborah Meaden predicted on the show that big brands would catch onto plastic-free chewing gum in the near future. It seems this type of gum will soon be the norm. It's generally in recyclable, biodegradable packaging too, so it will be interesting to see if Wrigley's and they like will follow suit, with cardboard rather than foil sleeves.

We tried plastic-free chewing gums to see how they compared to normal gum. It was hard to tell the difference between them and regular products. Here's how we got on.

Nuud Plastic Free Peppermint Gum, £1.50 for nine pieces

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Nuud is naturally sweetened with xylitol, which actually helps protect teeth. It comes from the bark of birch and beech trees and is Oral Health Foundation approved to reduce tooth decay and can even reverse decay by helping to replace the minerals in tooth enamel. Housed in recycled packaging without a plastic film, they're zero waste.

This is just as chewy as traditional gum, but unlike them, it doesn’t harden when you’re done with it. It stays sticky even when it’s long been out of your mouth. The minty flavour lasts for about 15 minutes and as someone who never keeps gum in for longer than about five minutes, that was plenty for me.

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Chewsy Spearmint Natural and Plastic-Free Chewing Gum, £1.39 for 10 pieces

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Also available in peppermint, lemon and cinnamon flavours, this UK gum brand uses chicle and xylitol with natural spearmint for a breath-freshening chew. GTG's editorial director Victoria found this stuck to her teeth a little more than regular gum, but it does give a pleasing mint flavour that lasts about ten minutes. They're also housed in cardboard packaging and can be found on the shelves of Planet Organic

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Stand by for more plastic-free chewing gum launches

MORE GLOSS: Should you be spending £20 on toothpaste?

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