Waging war on gum litter

16 October 2017

Steam-e explains how local authorities are using innovation and education to tackle chewing gum litter

Businesses and local authorities spend thousands of pounds on branding, buildings and attractions, to encourage customers and footfall, yet they are marred by chewing gum litter. Local councils throughout the British Isles are taking up the challenge to not only clean up the mess it creates, but also on education to discourage littering. Chewing gum litter is the second most prolific form of littering after cigarette butts; an estimated 92% of urban paving stones have gum stuck on them. Prior to a recent technological development, this has resulted in local authority funds spent on many hours cleaning up the mess. 

Worldwide, we humans chew about 560,000 tons of gum each year, a lot of which ends up on our streets. In the run up to the Olympic games in London 2012, local authorities encouraged visitors to the area by ensuring it was looking its best, cleaning up over 300,000 pieces of gum in the process. With the technology available at the time, it took over three months to complete, costing up to £2.30 per piece to clean.    

Gum-busting initiatives

Over the last few months, a new series of initiatives have commenced to help clean up our streets. Across Ireland, the Gum Litter Taskforce is campaigning to reduce gum litter by changing disposal behaviour. From Cork, to Dublin, Ennis and Bray, 27 local councils are joining the country wide campaign and encourage people to “bin your gum when you’re done”. The campaign includes TV, print and online advertising as well as an educational programme for children which includes actor led workshops supported by materials and tools to be integrated into lesson plans, with almost 40,000 students having taken part in the programme.  

Local authorities in Scotland are also preparing their teams for battle against gum litter, through the charity Keep Scotland Beautiful initiative, and Londoners walking down Oxford Street have had gum litter highlighted in a rather unusual way, with yellow circles painted around each piece of gum on the pavement, hitting home the unsightly mess created on a daily basis. Cities and towns across the UK are keen to eradicate the problem from their streets.

Steam & plant power

Supporting these initiatives are technological developments in cleaning equipment, which have vastly reduced the cost of removing gum from public places and venues. New, compact and battery operated machines are now available on the market which use the power of steam and plant based solutions to break down the fibres of chewing gum quickly and effortlessly, saving local authorities and businesses time and money on their clean-up campaigns.

As part of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council’s street cleansing priorities, they have invested in new technology to make gum removal more convenient and reduce the trip hazards created by generators and cables required by older, larger machines. They will be used as part of the annual deep cleanse of Blaenau Gwent town centres including Abertillery, Tredegar, Blaina, Brynmawr, and Ebbw Vale. The gum removers are environmentally friendly and battery operated, which keeps inconvenience to members of the public at a minimum.

Cllr Garth Collier, executive member for environment, said: “The deep cleanse we are planning will make a real difference to the way our residents and visitors feel about where they live and work. Being free from gum litter means that our town centres will be clean and attractive places for people to visit and spend time. From a councillor’s perspective, knowing we have been able to remove gum litter efficiently and effectively is key, and to do so in an environmentally friendly and safe way is reassuring.”

It goes without saying that as technology develops within the cleaning industry, the more cost effective certain tasks become. Cleaning gum from the streets is now something which local authorities can no longer put off due to high costs, inefficiency and manpower needs. It can be done quickly, easily, by one person and for less than £0.01p per piece.