How Green is Your Gum?

Good question. At Green Festival, where product demonstrations and samples took up much of the convention center's floor, free samples were as much a part of this expo as any other. Free samples also, necessarily, create a lot of waste, as plastic and paper cups and toothpicks are necessary for sampling organic granola (yeah, stereotype, I know) and fresh greens with hemp salad dressing and whatnot. Green Fest made sure that most of these samples came in containers made of recycled material, and that the plastic was compostable. They even had trash stations where latex-gloved helpers would assist festival-goers in getting rid of their trash in one of several containers for paper, recyclable plastic, compostable, and the dreaded bin labeled "landfill." The compostable bin at every station was always overflowing.

Which brings me to gum. After nabbing a sample of Glee Gum, which bills itself as an all-natural chewing gum, a friend and I went to spit it out (it's tasty, but not super long-lasting—think ecofriendly Chiclets, which are actually made of similar ingredients). I was surprised to see my all-natural piece of gum directed to the "landfill" bin by a volunteer. Gum, as it turns out, is not yet biodegradable, no matter how earth friendly the ingredients are. And while it certainly doesn't take up a ton of space in a landfill, birds and animals can eat gum and choke on it, or get sick from the ingredients in traditional chewing gum.

"As we understand it, there is not yet a fully biodegradable gum base," said Molly Lederer, business manager for Verve, Inc., the manufacturer of Glee. "The gum is made of natural resins and waxes... Whether the gum is natural or artificial, they don't biodegrade quickly. Eventually I imagine they would, I just think it would be a while. It's the same reason that we don't recommend that people swallow it."

Lederer told me that the company is currently researching an all-organic gum base, which she imagines would biodegrade. Until then, green gum chewers can rely on Glee for its chicle-based, preservative and additive-free flavor—or switch to mints.