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LGA - Chewing gum: councils highlight clear-up costs

Chewing gum manufacturers must help more with the growing multi-million pound cost to local communities of removing discarded gum, with 99 per cent of the nation’s main shopping streets now spattered, council leaders said last week 

The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is calling for gum manufacturers to contribute to the £60 million annual gum removal cost to councils. It said this would enable councils, which are experiencing ongoing funding pressures, to fill in more than a million potholes.

Recent research by Keep Britain Tidy found 99 per cent of main shopping streets and 64 per cent of all roads and pavements are stained by chewing gum.

The average piece of gum costs about 3p to buy - but up to 50 times that to clean up per square metre (£1.50). Most chewing gum is not biodegradable 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, the LGA says.

Councils up and down the country are being forced to use new and innovative methods to fight the blight. These include awareness campaigns, posters which people can wrap their discarded gum in and special chewing gum bins.

LGA Environment spokesperson Cllr Judith Blake said:

“Chewing gum is a plague on our pavements. It’s ugly, it’s unsightly and it’s unacceptable.

“At a time when councils face considerable ongoing funding pressures, this is a growing cost pressure they could do without. Conventional chewing gum is not biodegradable and councils have to use specialist equipment to remove it, which is both time-consuming and very expensive.

“It is therefore reasonable to expect chewing gum manufacturers to help more, both by switching to biodegradable gum and by contributing to the cost of clearing it up. While awareness campaigns the industry is involved in have some value, they are not enough by themselves. The industry needs to go a lot further, faster, in tackling this issue.

“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. Councils want to work with the industry to find solutions to this ongoing problem.”

Case studies

  • Chelmsford Council has to spend £68,000 to remove chewing gum each year.
  • More than 600 pieces of trodden-in chewing gum in Sutton High Street have been circled with chalk to show people the scale of the problem.
  • Posters designed to be used to discard chewing gum have been rolled out by Merton Council.
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