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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 May, 2003, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
'Chewing gum could lose its stick'
Chewing gum
Chewing gum is used by 28 million people, say Wrigley's

The hunt is on to make chewing gum less sticky so it is easier to clean off the UK's streets, manufacturers Wrigley have told MPs.

Executives from the company also told the Commons urban affairs committee that the nuisance of dropped gum was a peculiarly British problem.

The MPs also heard from McDonalds as part of its inquiry into how to make the UK's streets and parks cleaner.

Each year 413m is spent on street cleaning alone but the fast-food giant insisted it was playing its part in both preventing litter and picking it up.

RUBBISH FACTS
Street cleaning costs 413m a year from council taxes
Councils get 80,000 complaints about litter every year
Latest survey suggests 422 on-the-spot fines dished out for littering in a year - compared to 2,736 in 1963
Source: Encams

Members of the committee suggested the problem of chewing gum being ground into pavements was getting worse.

Alistair Whalley, Wrigley's public affairs director, said only a few of the 28 million gum chewers dropped their gum irresponsibly.

The company was engaged in education projects targeted at that minority.

Research drive

Product development was another key strand of combating the litter problem, said Mr Whalley.

"We are working on a number of fronts to improve the product so that it becomes less sticky so it can be cleaned up more quickly if people do dispose of it incorrectly," he said.

Finding a solution, made more difficult because gum had to be resistant to breaking up in people's mouths, was nearer than it was three years ago.

McDonalds packaging
McDonalds says it is working on recycling

But Mr Whalley said he could not put a timescale on when an answer would be found.

He suggested that using scrubbing machines to clear away discarded chewing gum was not a "viable solution" in the short or long term.

Jo Hartop, head of communications for Wrigley UK, said the problem was "quite unique" to the UK - with gum put in bins in countries like America.

She told the MPs: "There seems to be greater care for the environment, particularly in other European countries."

'Shared responsibility'

Nick Hindle, from McDonalds, said the burger retailer was already mounting a three-pronged campaign against litter.

Litter patrols, staffed at a cost of 4m, picked up discarded packaging within at least a 150m radius of the firms' restaurants, he said.

There were partnerships too with local communities so areas with particular litter problems were targeted, he said.

And McDonalds also supported schemes like the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign.

Labour MP Bill O'Brien asked why local councils should share responsibility for waste produced by McDonalds products.

But the company's Jessica Samson said efforts were being made to cut the amount of packaging and to make it biodegradable.

She said rubbish from litter patrols currently went to landfill with the general waste - an answer which did not impress Mr O'Brien, who asked about recycling projects.

Ms Samson explained that McDonalds had get an integrated waste collection service five years ago, but no nationwide companies were interested.

"As such, we have now started on a number of smaller recycling projects looking at isolating different waste streams and working with the recycling industry to develop processes for these products," she said.

The company was about a quarter of the way towards starting those recycling schemes, she added.

Fly tipping

The committee also heard from Alan Woods, chief executive of Encams (Environmental Campaigns), which runs the Keep Britain Tidy scheme.

Mr Woods said street cleaning should not be the "Cinderella department" with councils focusing funds on other priorities.

A recent survey suggested fly tipping had increased by 50% over the last four years, especially where councils charged for waste disposal, he said.

He denied that the Keep Britain Tidy campaign had failed, but indicated it could do with more funding.




SEE ALSO:
Message from the litter pram
28 Apr 03  |  Lincolnshire
Litter initiative wins award
05 Mar 03  |  England
Sticking to litter of the law
31 Jan 03  |  England


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