London losing battle against chewing gum

Attempts to clean up the mass of discarded chewing gum littering London's streets costs millions of pounds each year, a report has revealed.

The London Assembly Liberal Democrats unveiled that cleaning up London's streets and street furniture soiled by used gum incurred huge costs to transport organisations and local authorities, with Tube companies forking out £2 million and councils getting cleaned out of £2.3 million annually.

For the report, the Lib Dems surveyed all 33 of London's borough councils to uncover the extent of the problem, and found that:

  • Every borough that responded believed discarded gum was an environmental nuisance
  • 81% believed that gum companies should put more effort into developing biodegradable gum
  • 53% did not think imposing fines would stop people from dropping used gum on the street
  • 41% had already established teams to remove gum from streets and street furniture

    London Assembly Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Mike Tuffrey said he felt that London was losing the battle to clean up its streets from this kind of litter.

    "Chewing gum that is irresponsibly spat on to the street is a nuisance and is costing taxpayers millions each year to clean up. With sales rocketing and chewing gum spat on to the streets increasing, Ministers and the Mayor must look at new ways of tackling the problem before it spirals out of control," Mr Tuffrey stated.

    He called on gum manufacturers to make more environmentally friendly gum, and suggested that the government took a "carrot and stick" approach to motivate manufacturers to act sooner.

    Gum manufacturer Wrigley's maintains it has invested around £5 million into researching biodegradable gum options, claiming no success to date, but the Liberal Democrats claim research by a US university has shown that environmentally friendly gum which would also meet consumer demands is a definite possibility.

    The London Assembly Liberal Democrat's report, Getting to grips with gum, proposed a five-point plan to combat what they described as a "growing menace".

    These suggestions included: introducing a penny-per-pack levy to go towards clean-up costs; encourage manufacturers to produce an alternative biodegradable product by offering reduced levies; printing highly visible cigarette-style warnings on chewing gum packets; launching a publicity campaign; and rolling out more bins in key target areas.

    "The year long consultation recently carried out by the government has been a shallow sham that has failed to produce any concrete ideas on how to tackle the blight of gum spat on to our streets," Mr Tuffrey concluded.

    "Unless urgent action is taken soon, London will lose the fight against gum."

    By Jane Kettle

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