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Would a chewing gum ban clean up our streets?

A wall covered in chewing gum

Discarded gum makes a mess of our streets and it’s expensive to clean up. A chewing gum ban has been proposed in Milton Keynes, but is a ban the best way to keep our towns and cities tidy?

I don’t often chew gum, but when I do I always dispose of it carefully. Vivid memories of trying to remove gum from various shoes and clothes ensure I’d never consider throwing gum on the ground.

But it seems that many gum-chewers do just that, and the evidence is all around us. In Milton Keynes, the organisation After8 (created to improve the experience for visitors and residents) found 22 pieces of discarded gum in just one square foot of pavement.

That rather revolting discovery has led to After8 calling for a ban of chewing gum to be enforced. This would create potentially gum-free zones in public places like Xscape and the theatre district.

Chewing gum is classed as litter, so it’s already covered by the Environmental protection Act 1990 and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act. After8 presumably wants these laws to be more strictly enforced, so that gum throwers are more likely to face a fine.

The cost of chewing

The cost of cleaning up gum is massive, so a ban could save money for Milton Keynes in the long term. The charity Keep Britain Tidy estimates that the average cost of cleaning gum from a town centre is £20,000. To keep the streets clean, busy towns and cities probably need to spend that amount a few times a year.

But would a ban work if the sale of chewing gum isn’t stopped? After all, the ban in Singapore is helped by the selling and importing of chewing gum being prohibited. If there’s no gum available, enforcing a ban seems more straightforward.

Last time we spoke about chewing gum, you shared your ideas for solving the problem. And although some of you supported the idea of a ban, the most popular suggestion was to target the people who drop gum and change their attitude to litter. Community service for culprits was mentioned as a more suitable punishment than a fine.

There’s one solution that could make a big difference to the problem: biodegradable gum. Developed in Britain, Rev7 has recently gone on sale in Ireland. The gum is less sticky and can be cleaned from streets and clothes without needing chemicals. That seems like a gum-free step in the right direction to me.

Would you like to see chewing gum banned in public places?

Yes - it would keep our streets cleaner (77%, 835 Votes)

No - there are other ways to stop chewers littering (23%, 244 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,079

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richard says:
12 March 2013

From the chewing gum littering in my local streets – we need FAR MORE notices telling the public that they should take the gum home – in several languages – Just as we have MANY notices to dog owners about picking up poop – Both are equally against the law – but only one seems to be punishable. I have dogs – I pick up poop BECAUSE of the signs threatening £1000 fines – Not one sign about spitting – cigarettes – nose discharges – food wrappers – food – beds – chewing gum – paper – plastic bags – urination – vomit etc etc – all of which are disgusting but no notices except about dogs (the actual amount of poop littering the streets is minuscule (very very rare) in comparison to the rest.
When I was young I was taught to put chewing gum in the wrapper and take it home – To blow my nose in a handkerchief not on the floor – not to drop litter etc. Now apparently no one is taught such things – and – the councils do not act on this anti social behaviour

Try the new chewing gum by all means, but it will still be a problem if dropped inside buildings. I would like to see a ban on chewing gum in buildings – just as we have a ban on cigarette smoking.

It would be useful to interview the kids and adults who drop chewing gum and other litter to find out why they do this. I don’t even begin to understand why anyone can behave so antisocially.

Gum defaces every pedestrian precinct in Europe. I would make every apprehended gum dropper clean up 10 sq. metres of pavement with their fingernails. The same goes for Graffiti. I drove from Leeds to Bulgaria and every publicly visible vertical surface en route was “adorned” with the output of spray cans. However, gum is longer lasting (we’re talking decades) and more difficult to remove.

David Hall says:
12 March 2013

I am presently in Singapore where there is a ban on chewing gum. There is not one mark on the pavements from discarded gum. The problem in UK is that people who spit gum out are couldn’t care less louts, and I am afraid to say that we have more than a fair share of them. Ban chewing gum. it is a small price to pay as it will dramatically clean up our streets, but we will still be left with the anti social mob who drop cigarette ends and all sorts of litter even when litter bins are at hand. The underclass will never care about the state of our streets.

jane says:
12 March 2013

Singapore is spotlessly clean of gum . They have a fine “fine” system that stops any littrring inclusive of gum

They ban them from the Metro too
….to prevent mindless morons from
holding up trains.

Within a few days of its opening any new or refurbished passageway in the London Underground is disfigured by the little spots of gum that have been compressed and blackened by a million shoes. I had never realised that gum chewing and irresponsible disposal were so prevalent. I have never actually seen anyone doing it but the sheer number of tell-tale blobs indicates an anti-social problem on an unmanageable scale. Enforcement would be virtually impossible so a ban is the only solution. Taxing gum would only lead to contraband and other criminal behaviour. I’m not sure there is any evidence that the chewing of gum is uniquely beneficial, whether for oral hygiene, for dental care, or for exercise of the mandible; perhaps though, if practised repetitively, it contributes to better mastication and thus is an aid to digestion.

Chewing gum is a really effective way to quit smoking.
I myself have quit smoking for over 5 years now, thanks to nicotene gum, and then switching to good old wrigley’s.

So many people use gum to help them quit smoking, and for that reason alone, I think that banning gum is a really bad idea.

Educating people to dispose of gum sensibly is the answer. What I do, is carry a pack of mini post-it notes around with me, I wrap the gum in those, and dispose of it when I next pass a suitable waste bin – simples.

I was disappointed to read that you hope to ban chewing gum in Milton Keynes. Whilst I appreciate that it is costly to remove and spreads germs if not disposed of properly, I firmly believe that the benefits of gum e.g. fresh breath, reduced plaque buildup, whiter teeth, healthier gums… outweigh the issues.

Surely a better approach would be massive fines for anyone caught dropping gum?

Other approaches include a ‘gum art wall’ where gum chewers stick their gum onto boards which creates public art. Often, the best approaches are positive ones.

Why penalise everyone for the behaviour of the irresponsible few?


Louise Connor

Louise – It is not an irresponsible few. Just look at the streets of our cities. The suggestion of creating art from waste chewing gum must be one of the daftest ideas I have seen on Which? Conversation. Shall we make sculptures of discarded rubbish too? 🙂

If you want to keep your teeth clean and your gums healthy, a soft toothbrush is ideal.

Thanks for letting us know that Milton Keynes is going to take action.

shamsadonz says:
12 April 2013

l think we should chew gum


I think the idea of banning chewing gum because some people can’t use it properly is the daftest idea I’ve ever heard, let alone on Which? Conversation. What next, banning food because people drop litter?

The ‘gum art’ approach is actually being used in many major cities and is working. It is temporary art which is then removed by the council periodically. The main point is that the gum is off the floor, in a dedicated spot. Whilst I understand that it may not look the best, it does at least ensure people are positively encouraged to do the right thing.

As for rubbish – well in actual fact there are many sculptures are made from recycled items.

Finally, I already use a soft toothbrush but I think you’ll understand that carrying one around with me to use after I eat and drink is not practical.

I have NEVER dropped gum or litter on the floor. I resent being told in our ever-increasing nanny state that I can’t chew gum because some people are irresponsible.


Responsible chewing gum consumer.

*many sculptures made

If anybody wishes to take a look at some alternative approaches before supporting an outright ban, please go here:


This method is already in place in many major cities and is working.

We already have very little say in matters that affect us; supporting this crazy ban is just another step towards a total nanny-state, in which people are not trusted to do anything for themselves.
This ban will effectively making chewing gum a crime. What will it be next? Eating and drinking in public places, due to dropped food?

Do the sensible thing and oppose this ridiculous idea.

Support heavy fines for gum-droppers, not gum-chewers.

Bob says:
19 March 2013

It’s not just the streets. People dispose of it on the underside of tables and in urinals. After a party at my house, I discovered somebody had put it on the carpet under a table.

Those profiting from pollution should pay. Chewing gum companies should pay costs incurred by the taxpayer.

Good point, it is disgusting I agree. I still think positive encouragement and heavy fines for gum droppers are the answer. Perhaps a tax on the gum companies wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Ultimately though, people should be responsible for their own behaviour when they do wrong. Emphasis on when.
If you haven’t dropped the gum, why should you be punished?

Let’s remember that smoking is also disgusting and causes littering, on top of second-hand smoke issues, yet people can still smoke in cities outdoors.

Bob says:
19 March 2013

Comparison with cigarettes is a good one. Cigarettes cause additional costs e.g. NHS and fire services, litter. That’s why many people support the taxes on cigarettes beyond just 20% VAT. Many people will support taxing chewing gum beyond just 20% VAT. Fast food companies are actively involved in cleaning up mess left by their customer and they pay extra to councils. Same thing.

NobleGuy says:
22 December 2016

Are fast food chains clearing our litter? Take a drive and you’ll see that’s not true.
Same for energy drinks and cheap alcohol brands.
Unfortunately (I hate to tar certain people) the brands say a lot about the character of their customers. I don’t see bottles of Moet or Bollinger (or even more regular brands) littering my street, but I do see a lot of Burger King, MacDonalds, energy brands, White Lightning, …you get the idea…
I think forcing the shops selling these to close earlier would be the best option, as this type of rubbish turns up overnight, so it’s hard not assume that idiots in cars are dumping it out of windows, and drunks are just lobbing their cans here there and everywhere.

P.S. Just a small note. There’s evidence to suggest smoking actually saves the NHS money – dying early (and generally more quickly) of smoking-related illnesses is cheaper than someone who lives to 90 with an array of small issues that slowly suck the money out of the NHS with various treatments, time and care. Nope, I don’t smoke so I have no reason to protect the industry 🙂

Nobleguy says:
22 December 2016

Chewing gum is a tiny pin-prick of the general litter problem!!
How about tackling the dreadful amount of road-side (and walkway) litter? I don’t know when MK thought it would go down the route of London or Birmingham, but it’s depressing living in this horrible dirty town…