Springfords LLP blog

Some news, views and comments about everything and anything, relevant and irreverent.

Gumming up the planet

11 December 2014

We live in a litter strewn society, and that’s no good for anyone.  Quite apart from the unsightly aspects, what are the costs of cleaning up to the economy in general?  One organisation has put a price on just one aspect of the litter problem.  Chewing gum.

There are few things less pleasant than that moment when you realise that your footstep has just lingered a little longer on the pavement than you expected.  Well, there are a few things that are most certainly less pleasant, but we’ll tread carefully around them for now.

It’s been around for thousands of years, and it’s probably stuck to everything at one time or another ... including the under carriage of Ben Hur’s chariot.  It could be the reason the Rosetta lander didn’t work properly!  Non-biodegradable.  Indestructible.  Even cockroaches wish they had its survivability.  Almost everyone that’s ever used the stuff has had the dilemma of what to do with the sticky, saliva slick, blob of indigestible, hitherto flavourless, polymer.  The answer, unfortunately for many, is simply to throw it away - and so begins the lifecycle of discarded chewing gum.

The Local Government Association (that’s COSLA’s equivalent in England and Wales) says it costs about 3p to buy a stick of the stuff, but 50 times that to clean up.  Their press release helpfully works that out to be £1.50, and claims the annual bill for cleaning our streets of chewing gum is around £60m.  Of course, that’s a £60m bill that gets passed on to householders and businesses. 

A sticky situation, and that’s just the tip of the litterberg.

Gum chewers may be the vanguard of those who think planet Earth is their rubbish bin, but they’re hardly the only ones.  Litter in Britain is a problem. An expensive problem.  While personal littering is the preserve of societal change and the endangered species of the litter warden, corporate rubbish disposal is a very highly regulated world. 

Landfill taxes, recycling, and sophisticated remediation techniques mean that reputable companies deal effectively with waste - and at no small cost.  However, cleaning up after unscrupulous operators - and downright litterbugs - soon dwarfs the estimated costs of chemically jet washing our pavements and cinema seats. 

Fly tipping is almost endemic.  One illegal dump in Purfleet, Essex made the news recently, not least because it’s a mile long and has something over a million tonnes of rubbish.  Clean up costs, like all clean up costs, will fall on council tax payers and businesses. That’s when rubbish starts to hit your bottom line.

Back out on the street, to help tackle the gooey gunge, the Local Government Association has called for a gum tax.  They say the “producer pays” principle has been applied to many environmental issues, and should be applied to gum manufacturers.  There’s some support for that idea, but others advocate a more radical solution:  ban the stuff.

The streets of Singapore may not be lined with gold, but they’re not coated in rancid chewing gum either.  There has been a ban on chewing gum in force for decades, and the island city-state is all the cleaner for it. Cleaning up the gum problem would appear to have helped foster a cleaner lifestyle too.  The real lesson is that ban or not, Singaporeans don’t drop litter like we do.  Until there’s an attitude change in Britain, and we stop dropping our litter where we stand, gum in the streets will remain just one flavourless aspect of a sticky problem.

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Some news, views and comments about everything and anything, relevant and irreverent.

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