the chewing gum scourge is costing us all – as taxpayers – millions of pounds a year
My message to the gum-chewers of Britain is if you chew, then swallow, too. And if you can’t swallow it, then find a bin or face a fine
I was standing outside the new Tube station at Shepherd’s Bush last week, and marvelling at the regeneration that can be achieved by sensible investment in transport. The proprietor of a local coffee-cum-ice-cream bar was telling me how much better things were going, and how many new customers he was getting from the nearby Westfield shopping centre, when another man seized me by the elbow.
“Mr Boris,” he said, in tones of despair and an accent that suggested he was not native to London, “what are you going to do about all this?” As I followed the sweep of his arm, I saw the gleaming London Underground signs, and the capacious concourses, and the happy crowds of shoppers and commuters milling in ergonomically efficient patterns over the spanking piazzas; and then – beneath our very feet – I saw what he was driving at.
Imagine if you were Leonardo da Vinci and you had just immortalised the complexion of the Mona Lisa, and then you came back to find some vandal had used a magic marker to blob black stubble on her lovely cheeks and chin. Or put yourself in the shoes of the head groundsman at Wimbledon, and imagine that you had spent a whole year mowing and watering to produce the perfect lawn and then – on the eve of the men’s final – 200 moles had simultaneously erupted through the grass of Centre Court.
Or think what it is like to be a parent who rashly allows a teenage party to take place in your home, only to find a series of red wine stains and cigarette burns distributed in every square foot of your expensive, oatmeal-coloured, wall-to-wall carpet.
How would you feel? You would be fit to be tied. You would want to find each and every culprit and hit them with the penal code of medieval England or modern Tehran – whichever is the more barbaric.
Such are the feelings of many good citizens when they see the effect of chewing gum on our streets and pavements. It is a plague. It is a monstrous acne of sticky grey blotches. It is an awful self-inflicted impetigo on the face of modern London, and it costs a fortune to treat.
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The manufacturers spend only a couple of pennies to produce every stick or chiclet of gum, yet once they are gobbed on to the pavement and trodden flat by human traffic they adhere with such barnacle-like ferocity that they cost up to £1 each to remove.
It takes three months to clear 300,000 splodges from Oxford Street alone, and, as every councillor will tell you, the chewing gum scourge is costing us all – as taxpayers – millions of pounds a year.
In an ideal world, we might help to empty Ken Clarke’s overcrowded jails by sentencing offenders to squat in chain gangs over our gum-lichened pavements, scraping and sanding and water-blasting until our public space is clean and their debt to society is repaid.
In reality, my friends, it ain’t gonna happen. Any such punishment would be deemed an infringement of their human rights, and a breach of health and safety, since the offenders would claim to be exposed to any bodily fluids still immanent in the gum.
Nor is there, frankly, much hope of a technological solution. A great deal of money and research is going into water-soluble gums. The trouble is that chewing gum is, by definition, composed of stuff that is water-soluble and stuff that isn’t, and you extract the water-soluble flavourings and sweeteners and colourings in the process of chewing the indissoluble host – otherwise there would be no chewing in chewing gum.
The only answer, therefore, is to stop people spitting it out, and end the culture of great expectorations. But how? We could emulate Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, and ban all chewing gum from Britain, with the threat of several strokes of the rattan cane on the soles of anyone caught masticating in the streets.
Well, they run a tight ship in Singapore, but I have to say that seems harsh, and especially cruel to all those whose oral cravings have been intensified by smoking bans. What we need is a more systematic use of the on-the-spot fines that they have developed to such effect in Croydon and Southwark, where an £80 instant charge for gobbing gum is now a serious deterrent.
To those who say this is too punitive, I say pshaw. We are putting out more bins, and there is a growing number of Addison Lee gum ‘n’ butt receptacles on the walls. If you have finished with your gum and you can’t find an immediate bin, you can put it behind your ear, you can wrap it in paper, and above all you can swallow the wretched thing. Yes, you can. To say that it interferes with the digestion is a complete old wives’ tale.
It is probably not too good for under-fives, and there was one case of an 11-year old who experienced a “gum bezoar”, or semi-asphyxiating bolus in her gullet, but then she had also eaten several coins. For adult human beings, a small gulp of gum would make no difference whatever.
Think of the things that are pummelled every day in the muscular bag of acid that serves as the average British stomach. Think of the prawn heads, the vindaloos, the industrial quantities of gristle and bone that are chomped in the course of one evening of fried chicken – and we balk at a tiny bit of tree-sap!
According to leading American dietitians, swallowing gum can actually boost the fibre in our diets and help to prolong life, and by giving us the impression that we are full it can help tackle obesity. My message to the gum-chewers of Britain is if you chew, then swallow, too. And if you can’t swallow it, then find a bin or face a fine.
Boris Johnson writes for The Daily Telegraph
17 thoughts on “The plague of gum on our streets and pavements”
Well Boris, they always told me the Streets of London are paved with Gold, maybe I should take a leaf out of the Dick Wittington book and move down there.
The basis for this being, that Boris states the cost of removal per blob can be up to a £1… this makes the stuff pure golden nuggets…. (not the filthy eyesores they really are).
I operate an Environmental Cleansing company based in the North of England that specialises in the removal of Chewing Gum, we have been in business for many years and Gum removal is a full time operation.. yet never in our wildest dreams have we been able to – or would want to – charge these sums.
Mr Johnson is a clever astute man who I admire and respect. I am sure he will soon work out he’s having his leg pulled….hard.
A pound a blob I wish !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.
What do you think of this for crazy…
Created by the late Labour Government; Chewing Gum is only litter when it’s a “blob” but once its flattened i.e. stood on IT’S NOT …crazy or what but totally true.. check it out. Environmental Protection Act…Be interested to get Boris to comment…
Perhaps we could develop a bacterium that eats chewing gum. We could then spray it on the street and let it do its work. Splice a bit of chav DNA into a Streptomyces species and we should be ready to go.
I wholeheartedly agree! fine them , fine them !!! and why can’t we fine those disgusting creatures that like to spit on the pavement as well?
Chucking your chewed gum around is a disgusting habit, no wonder we are getting epidemics of swine flu and the like.
The only problem with fining people is that someone is going to have to snitch on the mucky pups, and we did agree last week, snitching is the pits.
I don’t Know why people who are drawing long term benefits cannot help the community by decorating public places, or even cleaning up the vile gum! How is it abusing their human rights?
The solution for the problem of gum disposal is to organise so that gum can only be supplied when the used gum has been returned.
“… someone is going to have to snitch on the mucky pups, and we did agree last week, snitching is the pits.” quoth angelneptunestar.
Not at all : given that, thanks to the National-socialist British Workers’ Party, London is dripping with C.C.T.V. cameras — helping us to identify dangerous Brazilian electricians — the necessary evidence is to hand.
What’s happened to the tories? First Kenny Clarke wants to empty the prisons, now Bozza thinks caning people is ‘a bit harsh’ but wants to employ an army of council workers to fine people for spitting their chewing gum out?
Does the civil service put something in their water or something?
I recall signs in buses which said ‘No Spitting – Fine £10’. I was a small boy then, and I told my father that I didn’t understand, as I had never seen anyone spit on a bus. He said, “You see? It works.”
As a lady we all know once said, ‘there is no such thing as society, there is only you and me’
Mr Johnson wants to copy Singapore and ban all chewing from Britain? Britain is not Singapore. They can enforce dictatorial laws like that in that part of the world. Britain is a free country.
How many undercover spies would you need to employ to walk the streets to catch people dropping litter, chewed gums on streets and to fine them? And local councils are quick to force fast food shops to hire their own litter-pickers to patrol the streets near their shops. But these actions are not the long-term answer to this problem.
Surely, the main point is: kids should be taught at schools ( and at home ) not to drop litter on streets. ” Nip it in the bud ! “, that’s what they say. But sadly, this main point is not mentioned in Mr J’s article once. Just ” Fine them! “, ” Jail them! “, it’s like a dictator shouting his orders!
As far as I know, littering is against the law, be it fly-tipping, spitting gum, or dripping battery acid into the river, and worse. It isn’t a question of snitching or CCTV.
Shouldn’t the law be enforced? Similarly it is illegal to be drunk in public, and illegal to be boorish and intimidating and drunk in public. But you’ll be able to walk through most town centres in Great Britain this weekend, and watch loutish and drunken behaviour. The vast majority of the public want this stopped: but it is tolerated by those charged with looking after law and order. (Remember law and order? It used to be a Tory thing.) Am I going too far to suggest that toleration is complicity?
I wouldn’t feel proud of my clean and spotless country if that was only because our government banned everything that could cause litter problems.
Which would yous prefer: a clean country like switzerland, Germany, Austria etc… because her citizens are conscientious? Or a clean country like Singapore because little comfort things like chewing gum sale is banned nationwide?
Blanket-banning is dictatorship. Have yous heard? A Tory MP told Cameron to demand Facebook to remove all websites supporting Raoul Moat!!! Very funny, indeed. And Cameron did contact Facebook! Of course, Facebook bosses have refused to obey Cameron, saying: ” French Connection U.K yous!!! Some hate Moat. Some like Moat. It’s healthy discussions – what’s wrong with that?!!! “
Surely Boris it is the responsibility of the manafacturer to put some thing in the mixture that when exposed to the air for 24 hours the gum disolves.
With all the technical experts in universities there must be one who could take on this task and save us all the expense and problem of it being on our streets.
Also I find it offensive that people spit in public with all the bacteria let into the air.
If you get everyone on the DNA database, then patrol the streets for fresh gum and nick the offenders in the Environmental Protection Act, well, that’d probably do the trick.
Oh yeah? What if YOU binned your chewed gum but some kids picked it out and other people’ out and chucked them onto the pavement to put YOU and other people in trouble with the pork?
The problem is it is not in the chewing gum companies interest to develop a chewing gum that will not stick to the pavement. They just want to make money selling the gum people like. Good idea about the DNA samples.
I couldn’t agree more. But when are you going to address spitting on London’s streets, which is even more disgusting!
Cleaning up the gum is not the answer.
A far better alternative is to allow the gum to accumulate. Apart from an immediate saving in the cost of removing the gum, we would, after a few years, find ourselves benefiting. The pavements would be on cushioned and will be smelling vaguely of peppermint – not an entirely objectionable prospect.
I can see many other benefits. The general lightening of the atmosphere as the reflective qualities of pale grey gum are superior to those of the generally dull pavement.
This attractive prospect might be improved further by the smattering of pale pink blobs of ‘bubble’ gum greating a quasi cottage garden feel to the urban scene.
Enterprising local authorities could encourage manufacturers to expand the colour range of their various gum products so gradually introducing a multi volour random pattern to the common or garden walkway.
Once this layer of comfy gum has spread over the entire pavement, the public might be able to dispense with footwear altogether, quite a boon in this time of austerity.
Other benefits from the safety perspective include the cushionning of falls with less severe injuries, less demand oon A&E and savings for the NHS.
The only snag I can envisage is the possibility of a heatwave, the effect of which might be to warm up the gum layer with unfortunate results for mobility.
In my view a small price to pay for increased comfort, beauty and safety in the urban environment.
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