Gum litter clean-up war urged by councillors

Councils "spend too much time and money" using specialist equipment to clean gum

The City of London is considering declaring war on the “eye-sore” gum that litters the financial district’s streets and sticks to the bottoms of shoes.

Campaign group Clean Up Britain says cash-strapped local councils spend an estimated £60million removing an estimated two million pieces of gum a year.

Central London authorities have tried tackling the problem with dedicated gum bins featuring anti-litter messaging.

But some City Corporation councillors are questioning whether the campaigns work, asking if they should be going a step further to lobby the government to push gum producers to pay for the mess.

Major gum manufacturer Wrigley’s says it has yet to perfect a non-sticking gum alternative, and says the focus should be on personal behaviour.

Clean Up Britain and the Local Government Association (LGA) both support a tax on gum producers. A cross-party motion was tabled in Parliament this February calling on the Government to tax chewing gum sales to cover removal costs.

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Councils “spend too much time and money” using specialist equipment to clean gum

The City’s Port Health Authority’s members were told in March about Westminster City Council’s Gumdrop initiative to install chewing gum drop-bins featuring anti-litter messages in a campaign, backed by companies including Wrigley’s.

However, a report to their meeting on 25 September said anecdotal evidence from the trial suggested people ended up missing the bins and dropping gum around their edges anyway.

The City had the same problem already with its 900 cigarette butt and gum disposal bins, it added.

Staff told the port authority the City’s pavements were specially coated for cleaning purposes, but discarded gum still stuck.

Councillor Vivienne Littlechild said she believed chewing gum had been invented that did not spread or stain the ground.

A Bristol University spinoff company manage to produce non-stick degradable chewing gum, which it brought to market in 2010.

“But of course Wrigley’s, or whoever is making the chewing gum, doesn’t want to put the expense into it,” Cllr Littlechild said.

She suggested the government should tax or fine companies making spreadable gum – adding that littering behaviour was also to blame.

“It’s an eyesore, an absolute eyesore and it’s depressing to see it on our lovely bridges in the Barbican. And I have to say it’s down to the human beings who are too dirty or lazy to put it in the bin.”

Port Health Authority chairman Jeremy Simons asked whether the Corporation could pressure the confectioners through lobbying for government policy.

Staff suggested the Corporation could increase its enforcement activities for a start, and could consider an anti-litter campaign.

It comes as the Corporation cracks down on litterbugs in the Square Mile, with people caught dropping rubbish from next April set to face increased fines of up to £150.

LGA environment spokesman Councillor Martin Tett said councils spend too much time and money using specialist equipment to clean gum.

“At a time when councils face considerable ongoing funding pressures, this is a growing cost pressure they could do without,” he said.

“Discarded chewing gum is ugly, it’s unsightly and it’s unacceptable… Local authorities are clear: this plague on our pavements needs to be tackled, and there is no place better to start than with the production of gum in the first place.”

Clean up Britain founder John Read said many councils had given up cleaning up gum.

In recent days, he wrote to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs over its Chewing Gum Action Group, which partners with Wrigley’s and other gum producers on anti-littering campaigns.

Mr Read questioned why the confectioners “don’t pay a penny” towards the clean-up costs.

Mars Wrigley Confectionery UK’s spokesman said the company had invested in trying to develop non-sticking gum but had not perfected a product environmentally sustainable in the quantities needed to supply the global market.

“We take the issue of littered gum very seriously and strongly believe that changing individual behaviour around litter is the only long-term sustainable solution to keeping our streets clean, which is why we are the largest corporate funder of anti-littering campaigns in the UK.”

But the gum mess piling up on the UK’s streets showed manufacturers could better spend their money on clean-up costs or biodegradable gum alternatives, rather than throwing money at anti-litter campaigns, Cllr Tett said.

“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.”