A drinking straw, bottled water, a shopping bag, and chewing gum have more in common than you might think. They all contain single-use plastics. Yes, even the gum.
Humans have long chewed gum to freshen their breath, to support oral health, to feel busy, the list goes on. But thousands of years ago, our gum of choice came from a tree. Research suggests that the Aztecs and the Mayans chewed Chicle, which they extracted from sapodilla trees.
But like many things, over time, gum has changed drastically. Now, a number of chewing gum brands use petroleum-derived plastic as a base.
But Milliways, which offers natural, plant-based chewing gum, is proving that we don’t need plastic in our gum. Inspired by the Aztecs, the brand uses Chicle in its three products: Mighty Mint, Watermelon Wonder, and Peppermint Power.
There is still limited research into microplastics and what chewing them might be doing to our health, but last year, one study found that microplastics do cause cell damage in humans. We also know that plastic causes significant harm to the environment because it doesn’t biodegrade.
Milliways’ founder Tom Raviv was inspired to launch the company after learning that each piece of gum contains roughly the same amount of plastic as a drinking straw.
He told Food Navigator: “574 billion pieces of gum get chewed every single year and all of that is plastic. It’s the second most littered item on the planet after cigarette butts.
“Every single year, all of those pieces that are discarded, whether that’s irresponsibly or discarded in a bin, never biodegrade because it’s plastic.”
Getting plastic out of gum
Raviv isn’t alone in trying to transform the gum industry. Back in 2018, Iceland became the first UK supermarket chain to sell plastic-free gum, made by vegan brand Simply Gum.
At the same time, the chain commissioned a study to find out how many people were aware that there was plastic in gum. It found that 85 percent of Brits had no clue.
Sir Malcolm Walker, Iceland’s founder, said at the time: “I absolutely detest the mess that discarded plastic chewing gum creates on our streets and the fortune that is wasted by councils trying to clear it up.
“For decades, regular gum makers have hidden their synthetic ingredients behind the catch-all term of ‘gum base’ which is consistently used as an ingredient on pack.”
Raviv says he wants to make plastic-free chewing gum “the norm.”
While Milliways is currently only available in the UK, the founder said that global expansion plans are on the horizon. He stated: “The plastic-based gum issue is global and so are our ambitions.”