Local authorities want firms to make a “substantial” contribution to the estimated £60m annual cost of removing gum from Britain’s streets.

The appeal was recently issued by the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents almost 400 councils in England and Wales.

It is calling for a “producer pays” principle to be introduced so that manufacturers are obliged to help shoulder some of the clean-up cost.

The LGA points out that the average piece of gum costs about 3p to buy – but 50 times that to clean up (£1.50). Most chewing gum never biodegrades and once it is trodden into the pavement this requires specialised equipment to remove.

The LGA has also urged gum manufacturers to switch to biodegradable and easier-to-remove chewing gum.

The problem is particularly acute in town and city centres. Westminster Council, for example, says almost three million pieces of gum – amounting to six tonnes – are dropped on the streets of the West End each year.

On average, on every metre of pavement there are around 25 pieces of gum. There are almost a million on West End streets at any one time.

‘Ugly, unsightly and unacceptable’

LGA Environment spokesman Cllr Peter Box said: “Chewing gum is a plague on our pavements. It is a blight which costs councils a fortune to clean up and takes hours of hard work to remove. It’s ugly, it’s unsightly and it’s unacceptable.

“The UK gum industry is a multi-million pound business and we believe in the principle of the ‘polluter’ paying. The chewing gum giants should be making a substantial contribution to help with the sterling work that councils are doing in removing it.

“Councils have no legal obligation to clear up the gum. They do it for the benefit of their shoppers, town centre users, businesses and residents: to make the pavements more attractive and the environment better.”

He said manufactures should be contributing more to the clean-up pot “given the size of the bill faced by councils in these tough economic times”.

Chewing gum giant Wrigley said it takes the issue of “littered gum very seriously”.

A Wrigley spokesman explained: “We believe that the only long-term solution to this problem is persuading people to dispose of their chewing gum responsibly, as the large majority already do.

“This is why we invest in programs, such as the Chewing Gum Action Group (CGAG), which are designed to inspire the remaining minority to do the right thing and put their chewing gum in the bin.

“Now in its ninth year, CGAG has to date worked with 80 different councils, some on multiple occasions, consistently leading to a reduction in littered gum in the areas it visits. In 2013 CGAG activity saw overall volumes of littered gum fall by 47% – an achievement of which we are very proud.”

Liz Gyekye

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