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Last Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006, 18:25 GMT
Councils chew over gum problems
Cleaner removing gum from pavement
Each piece of gum costs 10p to remove, councils say
It costs 3p a stick to buy, but 10p to prise off the pavements. And councils across Britain are getting sick of having to foot the bill for cleaning it up.

Chewing gum dropped on Britain's streets has enraged councils so much that 20 of them have banded together to ask for financial help to get rid of the problem.

They say that on London's shopping thoroughfare Oxford Street alone, there are more than 300,000 pieces of chewing gum. Westminster Council spends more than 100,000 a year dealing with the problem.

The councils took out a full-page advert in Monday's Guardian newspaper pleading for "financial support for the enormous clean up bill" and "proper investment" for manufacturers to come up with a biodegradable gum.

"Enough excuses, give us promises that stick," the poster says. They are calling for 1p out of the price of a pack of gum to be set aside for cleaning up the millions of pieces "spat onto our streets each day".

'Feeble' approach

The advert came on the same day as the Chewing Gum Action Group, backed by the government, held a conference over the sticky problem.

But Leith Penny, Westminster Council's head of environment and leisure, says the councils' campaign is partly a response to the Chewing Gum Action Group's "feeble" approach.

These are the early stages, and we hope to see more progress made...
Defra spokesman

"They've got a 'gum action group', which consists of government, representatives of local authorities, and the industry," Mr Penny told BBC Radio Five Live.

"They've come up with a new campaign which they've piloted in three local authorities around the country, and which is really concentrated on what strikes us as being a rather feeble public education campaign.

"So we would like to see a campaign that's genuinely hard-hitting, that stigmatises the activity; we'd like to see actual help to councils with the clean-up costs, paid for by the industry," he says.

Packs of chewing gum in supermarket
Wrigley produces 90% of the UK's gum

A spokesman for Defra, which is part of the Chewing Gum Action Group, said a guide was about to be sent out to all local councils.

It had been produced after three pilot campaigns during the summer to cut gum litter.

"These showed some very positive results - the campaign in Preston resulting in an 80% reduction in gum litter," he said.

"However, it must be remembered that such campaigns will not change attitudes overnight. These are the early stages, and we hope to see more progress made in a further round of a dozen or so campaigns this summer."

It's not only central London streets that are marred with the telltale black spots of gum.

We have squads out working seven days a week
Jim Ferguson,
Belfast City Council

Belfast City Council's street cleansing operations manager Jim Ferguson said the city suffered from a "serious problem".

"We have squads out working seven days a week. They start at the top of Royal Avenue, down one side of the street to Donegal Place, then across the place to the other side of Royal Avenue and back up to the top.

"That takes anywhere between four to eight weeks. By the time they've finished, they have to start again."

'Extremely expensive'

He said the council spent 60,000 a year on gum removal, but "we could spend ten times that amount and not crack the problem".

Both Mr Ferguson and Westminster councillor Alan Bradley say the gum manufacturers - led by chewing gum giant Wrigley - should take more responsibility for cleaning up their product.

Gum litter is caused by the irresponsible behaviour of a minority of chewers
Alex MacHutchon,

"It's extremely expensive and labour intensive to clear up," said Cllr Bradley.

He says some estimates put the clean-up bill for local authorities across Britain as high as 150m a year.

"It's a huge bill," he says. "We believe in the principle of 'polluter pays'.

Wrigley, which produces 90% of the UK's gum, released a statement on Monday, defending its involvement in the Chewing Gum Action Group.

"Gum litter is caused by the irresponsible behaviour of a minority of chewers, who need to be educated to dispose of their litter properly," said Wrigley's communication manager Alex MacHutchon.

"Consequently, we believe a fully integrated approach, encompassing education and the greater enforcement of fines, is required to tackle this issue in an effective and sustainable manner."

As for helping pay for what the councils say is the massive cost - the gum giant is keeping its mouth closed.

  • Councils involved in the campaign are: Belfast, Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford. Brighton and Hove, Cardiff, Crawley, East Herts, Edinburgh, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Leeds, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Nottingham, Oldham, Oxford, Slough, Stoke-on-Trent, Swindon and Westminster

    Campaign to solve sticky problem
    16 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland
    Gum boards tackle sticky problem
    18 Aug 05 |  Lancashire

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