Non-degradable chewing gums are disposed of in both dry and wet waste dustbins across the country.
India doesn’t have a policy on how to dispose of chewing gums. Chewing gums are non-biodegradable, they are made of synthetic plastic. Once they come in contact with air and heat, they convert to microplastics which can be hazardous to the environment.
Many people dispose of their used gums on street walls, trees, under park benches, bus seats, and even in lakes and rivers. A lot of them do not know if gums are dry waste or wet waste. “I eat five to six chewing gums every day, it keeps my mouth fresh. I discard them in any dustbin without checking dry or waste,” said Chandan M.N, resident of Jayanagar.
According to a report published by the Journal of Litter and Environment Quality, chewing gums are the second most littered waste in public places after cigarette buds. As much as 80 to 90 percent of chewing gum is not disposed of properly in the world.
Currently, in India, these mouth fresheners are not categorized as dry or wet waste. They are dumped in both dustbins in public places. In households, the waste is not segregated and directly collected by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). This unsegregated waste from 198 wards goes to a landfill in Bellahalli. Bengaluru City alone produces 2450 tonnes of unsegregated waste every day.
The Pourakarmikas, who sweep the streets of the city are in a dilemma about the process of segregation on chewing gums. Gums get sticky, once they are used, it is also very hard to scrape such small waste. When discarded in public areas it sticks to other plastics and paper, making them non-recyclable.
The Chief Executive Engineer, Sewage Waste Management (SWM) said that “Segregation should happen at the source level. Pourakarmikas are not trained for segregation. However, some might do it on their own. The problem is that used chewing gums do not have an economic value.”
The Karnataka State Pollution Board (KSPCB) regulates all kinds of pollution but has no guidelines or rules for the disposal of gums. “We haven’t thought about chewing gums, there is a grey area here. We will look into it now,” said Senior Environment Officer at KSPCB.
The Board believes that companies should take responsibility and follow Sewage Waste Management (SWM 2016) guidelines and provide appropriate waste disposal systems for their products.
Organisations working in this field say there should be awareness from authorities and people. “Chewing gums containing body fluids should go to red bins. Anything in red bins should be incinerated as a disposal method. Right now we should look at recycling waste into closed-loop recycling. It essentially means that we should keep recycling the product over and over again into the same product,” said Adarsh Jaiswal, Saahas Zero Waste management and consulting services. He added that the NGO has multiple red bins set up in the residential areas of the city and urges people to segregate waste into three categories.”
AC Nielsen’s report states that India’s gum market is worth around Rs 1,000 crore and it has one of the fastest-growing gum categories. Even as the demand for these mouth fresheners is rapidly going up, India is yet to find proper disposable measures.