A Mexico City lawmaker has proposed a bill that would impose a fine of up to 16,898 pesos (US $880) for discarding used chewing gum in the street.
Green Party Deputy and Environmental Commission chairwoman Teresa Ramos Arreola said that removing one piece of gum costs “approximately 2.5 pesos [and] in the historic center alone we have counted up to 200,000 pieces of gum stuck to the pavement.”
The famous downtown pedestrian street Francisco I. Madero — only six blocks long — was found to have as many as 150,000 pieces of gum adhered to the roadway. Other downtown areas were found to have 75 pieces per square meter.
The Mexico City government has looked for ways to rid the city streets of gum since 2009. It is removed manually with gasoline and a spatula, or with high-tech machinery bought from Europe.
However, the problem goes beyond aesthetics and pollution. The bill also aims to address public health risks posed by tossing chewed gum onto the street.
Ramos’ proposal says every piece of gum thrown away in public spaces “is a big source of infection and a risk to the health of the city’s inhabitants, since it can harbor up to 10,000 bacteria and fungi gathered from the environment in which it’s found.”
“In this sense, each piece of gum is a source of infection, since it contains the microorganisms of the person who chewed it. Such is the case of a person with tuberculosis, salmonella or staphylococcus who, upon discarding the gum on the street, causes those bacteria to be scattered in the air. It will also gather dust, dirt and filth from the city.”
Data from Kraft Foods and the National Statistics Institute (INEGI) reveal that Mexico is the world’s second largest consumer of chewing gum after the United States. The market value for the over 92,000 tons of gum produced in the country each year is over US $420 million.
Ramos said the per-capita consumption of chewing gum in Mexico is 1.8 kilograms per year, meaning the average Mexican citizen chews 2.5 pieces a day.
Modern chewing gum has its roots in an 1860 meeting between former Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna and American inventor Thomas Adams. Santa Anna proposed that Adams use chicle as a substitute for rubber. Adams sweetened the latex instead and sold it in strips for chewing.
The Spanish word chicle comes from the Náhuatl word tzictli and the Mayan word sicté, which refer to the sap of the sapodilla tree, or chicozapote, as it’s called in Mexico. The latex derived from the tree’s bark is heated to remove the liquid and achieve the chewy consistency.
However, the majority of chewing gum on the market today is a synthetic substance called polyvinyl acetate, a polymer made by companies such as the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.