young man pulling chewing gum from his mouth

Chewing gum: We munch on it to freshen our breath, to reduce boredom, or reduce cravings. Whether you’re a gum-snapper, a bubble-blower, or a more reserved gum-chewer, you’re probably chewing on a material that’s polluting our landscapes and waterways. That’s right, most chewing gum contains plastic.

People have been chewing on stuff for thousands of years. History.com tells us that people from northern Europe munched on birch bark tar. The Mayans chewed on chicle, a material extracted from the sapodilla tree. Native Americans — and later, European settlers — chewed on spruce tree resin. These were all naturally chewy things from organic origins.

In the U.S., chicle-based chewing gum was popularized in the late 1800s but by the 1940s, chicle was largely replaced by synthetics. Today, most of the gum on the market gets its elasticity and chewy-ness from plastics. Sometimes the plastic base is polyethylene, the plastic used to make most plastic bags. Another plastic used in gum is polyisobutylene, which is used to make inner tubes. The “ick” factor aside, if you’re trying to eliminate single-use plastics from your life, take a look at chewing gum.

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Not All Gum Contains Plastic

Fortunately, there are plastic-free alternatives, although you might not find them in your local supermarket. Some of these brands are rather obscure and you’ll have to place an order directly from their websites. Others you might find locally and several brands are available on Amazon.

Most plastic-free gum brands state that their gum base contains chicle — the chewy stuff that Mayans chewed on years ago. In addition, many of the plastic-free brands we found sweeten the gum with xylitol, a natural sweetener that fights cavities, derived from the bark of birch and beech trees. These brands also may state that their gum is biodegradable, kosher, plant-based, GMO-free, vegan, or even palm-oil-free. A lot of the ingredients are similar among these natural chewing gum brands, but they all claim to be free of plastic.

woman sitting in the middle of the road blowing a bubble with her gum
Most of the gum on the market today gets its elasticity from plastic. Photo: Edu Carvalho, Pexels

Plastic-free Gum Options

Chicza is a company with one focus: natural, plastic-free chewing gum. What sets the brand apart is that all its ingredients are organic and made of 100% chicle, sustainably harvested from rainforests. It claims that the other natural gum brands do not use only chicle in their gum base. It’s available in mint, cinnamon, and mixed berry flavors. BUY Chicza gum on Amazon

Woman-founded Simply makes a variety of natural candies as well as plastic-free gum made with a chicle gum base. Made in the U.S.A., Simply gum is sweetened with organic sugar cane and comes in unique flavors including maple, coffee, fennel, pumpkin spice, and one flavor that’s a combination of grapefruit, prickly pear, cayenne, and sea salt. BUY Simply gum on Amazon

Glee Gum is made with sustainably harvested rainforest chicle and packaged in recyclable materials. Non-GMO cane sugar and brown rice syrup sweeten classic Glee Gum; the sugar-free version is sweetened with xylitol. Glee is more widely distributed throughout the U.S. than some plastic-free gum brands, so you might find it in a local grocery store. BUY Glee Gum on Amazon

The Humble Co. is a Swedish-based company founded by dentists working against plastic waste and helping lower-income communities with dental health. In addition to dental-care products such as toothpaste and floss, it sells xylitol-sweetened gum in mint, tropical fruit, and berry flavors. The ingredients don’t list the source of its “natural gum base,” but the website says it “comes from trees.” BUY The Humble Co. gum on Amazon

The first natural gum company in the U.K., Chewsy gum is yet another chicle-based, plastic-free chewing gum. The gum is sugar-free, naturally sweetened with xylitol, and comes in peppermint, cinnamon, spearmint, and lemon flavors. BUY Chewsy on Amazon

More Plastic-free Gum Brands

  • Milliways is a London-based company that makes chicle-based gum in flavors such as mint, bubble mint, and watermelon. Its packaging is also plastic-free.
  • The woman-owned brand Oh My Gum! uses chicle in the gum base and also uses plastic-free recyclable cardboard in its packaging. It’s available in the U.K. as well as France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and Austria.
  • Nuud is based in the U.K. and, like Oh My Gum, does not use any plastic in its packaging. Like the other brands, its “natural gum base” includes chicle.
  • Based in Copenhagen, True Gum chicle-based gum comes in interesting flavors like Raspberry & Vanilla, Ginger & Tumeric, and Liquorice & Eucalyptus.
Man stepped in chewing gum
As more of us work towards eliminating plastic from our lives, avoiding plastic chewing gum is an easy change to make.

Let Companies Hear Your Voice

These are just a few of the plastic-free gum brands out there. As more consumers request plastic-free gum, manufacturers will respond with more options. Our purchasing habits are a great way to influence businesses, so buy gum that aligns with your values. If there’s a gum brand you’ve stopped buying because it doesn’t offer a plastic-free option, let the company know why you’ve stopped buying its product.

Plastic pollution is a worldwide crisis. As more of us work towards eliminating plastic from our lives, avoiding plastic chewing gum is an easy change to make. Who wants to chew on plastic anyway?

By Maureen Wise

Maureen Wise is a freelance writer for a number of green-leaning companies. She also works in higher education sustainability and previously in watershed restoration. Wise serves on the board of two environmental nonprofits, is a solar owner, and is a certified master recycler.