When was the last time you removed your knees from under a table and found a blob of Spearmint Gum stuck to one of them? When was the last time your foot stuck to your newly laid kitchen flooring, due to a pink blob of Bazooka joining the two together? When was the last time you noticed a smiling teenager casually chatting to friends, stopping for a second to curl his tongue to hurl a pellet of masticated Stimorol into the distant bushes? Or the last time you went for an hour of pastoral relaxation in the local park and observed the grass lawns littered with Freedent, Orbit and Winterfresh wrappers? When was the last time you went fishing and fished a fish whose gills were stuck together with teeth-marked Juicy Fruit? When did you last put on your favourite blouse and notice that Hubba Bubba had got there first?
If I were a gum producer, I would consider the environmental effects of gum-chewing habits as one of my most material issues. Somehow, when sticky-substance gum manufacturer Wrigley says that Wrigley brands are woven into the fabric of everyday life, I dont think this was quite what they meant. Just see what the Chewing Gum Action Group in the UK has to say about gum droppers. More importantly, what does Wrigley say about these undesirable effects of people who chew ?
Apparently, chewing gum offers significant benefits: Improving Oral Health, Diet and Weight Management, Improving Focus, Contentration, Alertness and Stress Relief. Sounds to good to be true. Chewing gum never did all that for me ! Maybe I need to improve my chewing technique.
The Wrigley Sustanability Report for 2008 does indeed include a paragraph on Wrigley's initiatives to promote responsible disposal of chewing gum, and Wrigley is a member of NGO associations which support keeping our planet beautiful, including above-mentioned Chewing Gum Action Group. Including anti-litter logos on chewing gum wrappers since the 1930's doesn't seem to have quite done the job. This issue is treated in a remarkably low profile way and seems to me to be inadequate in terms of a Company accepting true accountability for the way its products are used. Have any of Wrigley's activities actually impacted the amount of Chewing Gum litter that invades our lives? The Success Stories of the 2008 Action Group Campaign include some impressive case studies, such as one in the Test Valley Borough Council in the UK where a 62% drop in chewing gum drops (deliberate pun) was observed, though this begs the question of how long this improvement can be maintained. It also seems like a bit of a drop in the ocean (yes, another pun).
I was wondering what creative ways Wrigley could develop to encourage a long-lasting sustainable system for responsible gum disposal:
Recycling: yes, recycle your gum. Wrigley could wrap gum in reusable wrappers so that you can pop your gum into your pocket and whip it out the next time your jaws have the urge to reactivate.
Upcycling: Wrigley could develop a side business of hardened-gum-based products - such as cell-phone casings, laptop shells, shoe soles, lighting fixtures etc
Culture: Wrigley could commission an exhibition at the Tate of gum-art using only chewed gum. Gum lovers would flock in their thousands to admire the exhibits (and create more on-the-spot)
Sealant product line: Wrigley could make a range of products using gum for sealing purposes for application with car tyres, car radiators, water pipes, leaking roofs etc.
Defence systems: Wrigley could offer used reinforced chewing gum in the manufacture of air-to-ground missiles for use against aggressive land forces.
Space exploration: Use of chewing-gum based shells for space shuttles for planetary discovery missions.
Child care: Innovative application for releif of hyper-verbalism in the under-10's (attach to lips of kids and hold shut for 3 minutes). Works also for CEO's.
Gastro-intestinal problems: Diarhoea releif. Take a hardened blob of chewing gum and stick it .... oops, enough said.
Wrigley could also become pioneers of sustainable gum innovation such as Swallowable Chewing Gum, or Self-Destructing Chewing Gum, or Chewing-Gum-that-turns-into-Dollar-Bills-after-300-chews.
Whatever method Wrigley decides to adopt to ensure that the inevitable consqeuences of its core business contribute a Net Sustainability Gain (see previous post:)), I would like to think that it is s more than Wrigley does now, which seems to be a little, well, half-chewed.
elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm. Visit our website at: www.b-yond.biz/en