The return of chicle

Any guess on what the most stubborn and pervasive pollutant of the urban environment might be? It affects 94% of shopping centres, 71% of train stations – it is chewing gum. As a UK population, we spit out 3.5 billion spent sticks of gum a year. In busier parts of London there are an average 20 trodden-in gobbets on every paving stone, a grand 300,000 of them on Oxford Street*.

Chewing gum is not biodegradable. Made from synthetic rubber, it is sticky, durable, and practically indestructible.  It wasn’t always synthetic. When it was first invented in the 1870s  it was made from chicle, the resin of the Mexican sapodilla tree. If it were still made from chicle, all those blobs on Oxford Street could be swept away as dust by the council cleaners, instead of being frozen, scraped and blasted with water jets.

Which means I was interested to discover that a Mexican chicle harvesters co-operative have recently launched their own brand of chewing gum, made the way it used to be. Chicza Rainforest Gum is the world’s first organic and biodegradable gum, and it will be sold through Waitrose early this year.

It’s only a little thing really, but it’s the kind of idea we love at make wealth history. It will provide jobs in Mexico, allowing a beleaguered local chicleros to continue providing for their families. The Mexican rainforest benefits too, because chicle is harvested from living trees, so the forest will be protected and carefully managed. At the same time, UK councils will have to spend just a fraction less on cleaning up our pavements. It’s a great example of innovative sustainable business, combining economic development and rainforest conservation, and I can’t wait to try a piece.

Unfortunately world gum consumption is so huge that the Mexican rainforest would never be able to meet chicle demand, so synthetic gum will continue to dominate the market. But, if consumers respond well, it will only be a matter of time before Wrigleys produce a biodegradable gum of their own.

Update: Want more on Chicza? Check out our exclusive audio documentary here.

*All figures from Richard Girling’s book ‘Rubbish’.

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7 Comments on “The return of chicle”

  1. kirsty elliott January 13, 2009 at 7:12 pm #

    Hi Jeremy

    I am working with Chicza in the UK and would be happy to send you a sample to try. It is an old prototype (the latest version is almost ready for shipping) but it will certainly give you an idea of what it is like. As you can imagine we are constantly trying to improve the product.

    Drop me a line with your address and I’ll put a pack in the post for you.

    Kind regards
    Kirsty Elliott

  2. sathish kumar March 23, 2009 at 9:52 am #

    I am intersted in the concept of ‘Bio degradable natural chewing gum’. Please send me details of ‘Chicsa’. We are in the trading business of FMCG and Phrmaceuticals in The State Of Qatar.
    regards
    sathish

  3. Jeremy March 24, 2009 at 10:21 am #

    Hi Satish, not much I can send you on the subject I’m afraid. Chicza is due to launch in April in the UK, so there will be more details available then.

  4. crazyearthnut May 24, 2009 at 1:16 pm #

    When will this be available in the U.S.? Is there any way I can order through the internet? I have given up chewing gum because of the enviromental impact and have been anxiously awaiting a product such as this…please let me know.
    thanks.
    Joann

  5. Jeremy May 25, 2009 at 5:51 pm #

    Hi Joann, I haven’t heard of any plans to make this available in the US, but it’s still pretty new. I wouldn’t be surprised if they roll it out there too eventually. You may be able to buy it through http://www.waitrose.com, as they are the only UK retailer stocking chicza at the moment.

  6. kirsty elliott May 25, 2009 at 9:07 pm #

    Hi Joann and Satish
    I work for Chicza and it is true that it is only available in the UK at the moment, full details on the site:
    http://www.chicza.com/where_to_buy.php
    There is the possibility of registering a trade enquiry there too.
    I’m afraid I can’t give you any news on when Chicza will be available in the US, at the moment we are concentrating on the UK.
    Regards
    Kirsty

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Chicza - the UK’s first biodegradable gum « MAKE WEALTH HISTORY - April 2, 2009

    [...] fair trade, food | Tags: biodegradable gum, chicza | No Comments  A few months ago we reported on Chicza, the first biodegradable chewing gum to go on sale in the UK. It’s a great example of [...]

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