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The little things we don't think about

by Ron Holdraker
July 31, 2021

You got a wad of chewing gum in your mouth, but it has lost any, or all of its original flavor. So, do you follow human nature and just chuck it.

This brings up several long-term environmental concerns if the gum were to be allowed to collect in landfills and our urban and rural landscapes. According to some estimates, chewing gum already makes up 250,000 tons of waste in our planet’s landfills.

According to Make Change, Birds, rodents, fish, and other animals may mistake the small wads of gum for food and munch on them. Gum can clog their digestive systems and fill their bodies with toxins. And as the sun breaks down the gum into microplastic debris, they may enter into our oceans and seas, further complicating the marine life food chain. 

Gum may also cause air pollution. In the case of landfill fires or the burning of trash, the synthetic plastics and rubbers present in chewing gum may release harmful chemicals into the air. Breathing in these chemicals can increase our risk of asthma, cancer, and endocrine disruption.

Then there are  the obvious signs of chewing gum on sidewalks and roadways. Some studies suggest that chewing gum is second to cigarette butts when it comes to biodegradability. Both are made of plastic that cannot be broken down by living organisms, such as bacteria, in the environment. According to a study by Keep Britain Tidy, a British charity, 95% of the United Kingdom’s streets are stained with gum.

Oh, and what about those cigarette butts?

The truth, according to EP (Eradicate Plastics) is, nobody knows for sure how long cigarette butts will take to decompose. Because they contain plastic, they will not biodegrade in the same way as organic material. Instead, they break into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually being classed as microplastics.

It has been estimated that cigarette filters will take between 500 and 1000 years to decompose, but there is not enough scientific evidence to give a conclusive answer to this question.

Still, we chuck them out windows of vehicles, toss them on the ground while walking. Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter in the world. And it’s not hard to see why, up until relatively recently, dropping cigarette ends was seen as a socially acceptable thing to do.

Hmm, those plastic garbage bags, The 13 gallon home disposable and the larger all encompassing garbage and yard scrap bags?

Normally, plastic items take up to 1000 years to decompose in landfills. But plastic bags we use in our everyday life take 10-20 years to decompose, while plastic bottles take 450 years.

Plastic does not really decompose though. This means that all plastic that has ever been produced and has ended up in the environment is still present there in one form or another.

We look at plastic pollution as tons of material floating in the oceans, or along side the roadways, but in reality plastic has become the nemesis of human civilization. Convenient and economical, plastic bags, chewing gum and even those expensive cigarette butts are all leading to environmental destruction.

Plastic bags of all sorts can be replaced by plant-based bags, though they are a bit more costly in the short run. There are now plastic looking bags that actually decompose in short periods of time and help the environment.

Disposing wads of gum and those nasty cigarette butts is something we all have to acknowledge is just plain wrong and gross.

We can all be aghast at climate change and pollution, but there are simple ways we can all put the brakes on these bad environmental practices.

Recycling should be done in every home and business. Looking for products using, if not all, but at least some recycled materials and supporting companies with safe environmental practices should be high on our minds.

Reducing energy costs, moving away from fossil fuel technology, supporting causes, protecting natural environments and species should not be a political divide.

This space marble we call Earth must survive beyond the next few generations and we must take responsibility for the little things we do not think about.

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