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Preventing chewing gum litter

Scots love chewing gum. We spend £28.6 million on the stuff every year.

But used gum causes a huge litter problem.

Discarded chewing gum never breaks down. It makes our towns and cities look grubby, harms our wildlife and uses up a hefty chunk of our public budgets – on average, each bit of gum costs only 3p to buy, but £1.50 per square metre to clean up.

Get the message out there

Letting people know the extent of the problem is a good place to start.

Many gum-lovers don’t know that they can be fined for littering gum. If they did, it’s likely they’d change their behaviour.

‘Be a binner, not a sinner’

In 2008, the Borough of Poole enlisted the help of a gum-like mascot to let people know that dropping even a single piece of gum could earn them a £75 fine. They also handed out books of chewing gum disposal paper to help people stay on the right side of the rules.

This activity, which reduced chewing gum litter by 20%, shows that a tough message can be delivered in a friendly way.

‘Bin it’

The Chewing Gum Action Group (CGAG) is made up of authorities, environmental groups and chewing gum manufacturers. They tackle chewing gum litter with a communications-led approach, delivering the right blend of big thinking and local engagement.

Each year CGAG partners with a different group of local authorities to run themed ‘Bin It’ communications. Their 2015 campaign, ‘Bin It Your Way’, managed a 38% average reduction of dropped gum in participating areas – including the North Highland Council region.

…especially with kids

The best time to teach good habits? Before bad ones have taken hold. Talking to children about gum litter is a powerful tactic, as it can instil behaviours that last a lifetime.

‘Bin It’ for schools

CGAG identified that children who learn about litter prevention grow up to be more caring about their environment and have a heightened sense of social responsibility. Because of this, the group’s campaigns always incorporate a wealth of activity aimed at schools – including an educational roadshow, teachers’ notes, lesson plans, activity cards and posters. Packed with funny, engaging information, these resources make gum litter education memorable in all the right ways.

Provide an easy way to get rid of gum
Image: ©Gum-Tec

Gum can be difficult to dispose of. We’ve probably all experienced that moment where we’re left rooting around for an old tissue or receipt to wrap our used gum. Or we’ve tried to do the right thing and put our gum into a bin, only to miss and watch the gum drop to the pavement.

Better provision for disposing of gum would help people who want to get rid of it properly to do so. That means less of the sticky stuff on our streets.

This starts with dedicated chewing gum bins, placed at regular intervals in problem areas. These bins, as their name suggests, are designed especially for gum. They vary from simple miniature bins to more eyecatching efforts.

Gumdrop’s bright pink bins are hard to miss. It’s little wonder they reduce chewing gum litter by up to 46% in the first 12 weeks, saving local authorities as much as £6,000 a year in clean-up costs.

The Gumdrop company don’t only collect gum, they also recycle it into plastic – the very stuff that’s eventually made into more bins, as well as welly boots, coffee cups and guitar plectrums.

Gumdrop bins are already making their mark at sites across Scotland, including Aberdeen Airport, Aberdeen Business Improvement District and the University of Glasgow.

Image: ©Gum-Tec

You can’t put bins everywhere. So how do you stop people dropping gum when there isn’t one nearby? Gumdrop teamed up with Keep Scotland Beautiful and gum manufacturer, Wrigley, to tackle this very issue.

Gumdrop on the Go

A pilot scheme at Glasgow University Student’s Union (GUU) gave out free ‘Gumdrop on the Go’ keyrings across the site. It offered an incentive for students to embrace the concept: social media users who posted a picture of themselves dropping their gum-filled ‘bubble’ at a collection point were entered into a prize draw. A similar trial in Bangor, Wales reduced chewing gum littering by 56.5%.

Put it at the top of the agenda

The most effective approach? All of the above.

In 2009, Edinburgh City Council showed the potential of a comprehensive approach. As part of a city-wide clean-up and litter prevention strategy they installed extra bins – including gum bins. The council also handed thousands of personal gum-disposal pouches to businesses and individuals. This activity was accompanied by communications reinforcing the message that gum litter is a big issue.

The result? The city achieved its highest score to date in an independent cleanliness survey run by Keep Scotland Beautiful.

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