Chewing gum manufacturers must help pay for the multi-million pound cost of removing discarded gum from streets say councils, who warn the problem is becoming “a plague on the country’s pavements”.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents almost 400 councils in England and Wales, is calling for gum giants to pay part of the £60m annual removal cost. That figure would enable councils to fill in over a million potholes.
The LGA wants a “producer pays” principle to apply, which means manufacturers would contribute to the cost of ensuring proper disposal.
The LGA points out that the average piece of gum costs about 3p to buy – but 50 times that to clean up (£1.50). Most chewing gum never biodegrades and once it is trodden into the pavement this requires specialised equipment to remove. Gum manufacturers should also be switching to biodegradable and easier-to-remove chewing gum, it says.
Cllr Peter Box, LGA – “Chewing gum is a plague on our pavements. It is a blight which costs councils a fortune to clean up and takes hours of hard work to remove. It’s ugly, it’s unsightly and it’s unacceptable”
The problem is particularly acute in town and city centres. Westminster Council, for example, says almost 3m pieces of gum – amounting to six tonnes – are dropped on the streets of the West End each year.
On average, on every metre of pavement there are around 25 pieces of gum. There are almost a million on West End streets at any one time.
In Manchester, a major campaign has seen nearly 800,000 pieces of gum removed from streets – and enough pavement has been jet-washed to cover a dozen football pitches.
Meanwhile, other councils have been looking at innovative new approaches, trying to persuade people to dispose of gum responsibly. These have included providing recyclable paper sheets to fold around it and bins with eye-catching anti gum-littering messages.
LGA Environment spokesman Cllr Peter Box said: “Chewing gum is a plague on our pavements. It is a blight which costs councils a fortune to clean up and takes hours of hard work to remove. It’s ugly, it’s unsightly and it’s unacceptable.
“The UK gum industry is a multi-million pound business and we believe in the principle of the ‘polluter’ paying. The chewing gum giants should be making a substantial contribution to help with the sterling work that councils are doing in removing it.
“Councils have no legal obligation to clear up the gum. They do it for the benefit of their shoppers, town centre users, businesses and residents: to make the pavements more attractive and the environment better.
“They are doing the right thing but unfortunately the manufacturers are not. We acknowledge firms are contributing to litter prevention campaigns. However, given the size of the bill faced by councils in these tough economic times, this isn’t cutting the mustard.”
Cllr Ed Argar, Westminster Council’s Cabinet Member for City Management, Transport and Infrastructure, said: “We support the LGA’s call. Dealing with the sticky mess of discarded chewing gum on our streets swallows a huge amount of resources, in terms of both money and man-hours. The ‘gumbusters’ do a great job of removing gum from some of the West End’s greatest streets, but it’s a thankless task – as soon as it’s done they have to start again. Something needs to change if we are to find a real and lasting solution to the problem, rather than just dealing with the consequences.
“It is why we want everyone – from manufacturers to those who buy and chew the gum – to take greater responsibility for helping solve this problem. This could involve exploring new types of gum that are easier to remove, but fundamentally it means people who chew gum wrapping and binning it rather than leaving it to others to clear up the mess they leave behind.”