The chewing gum problem
In November 2010 the Peterborough Evening Telegraph reported that the City Council was stepping up its battle against so-called ‘chewing gum louts’ who were turning the city centre
into a sticky eyesore. The problem of discarded gum was growing. In particular, there was
anger over the way in which expensive new paving stones in the £12m revamped Cathedral Square had been damaged by the discarded gum which had been ‘spat out and squashed’ 5 onto the ground.
Peterborough’s problem with chewing gum is hardly unique. It is one which is faced by towns
and cities throughout the UK and elsewhere. Cleaning one piece of discarded gum from
UK streets costs 10 pence; it is estimated that local authorities spend over £150m a year removing gum, a figure which is increasing. 10
The manufacture of chewing gum is big business. Around 1000m packs are produced
each year in the UK alone. Two types of gum are produced by Wrigleys and Kraft, the main manufacturers. These are traditional gum and therapeutic (medicinal) chewing gum which
is used for health reasons such as to clean teeth or to stop smoking. Within the market, a growing proportion of the total gum sold is in this latter category. 15
Manufacturers of therapeutic gum have been quick to realise that this type of gum is one which consumers are prepared to buy in preference to traditional gum. Fig. 1 below shows how increases in its price might affect the sales of traditional gum.
Fig. 1: Estimated changes in the price of therapeutic gum and the demand for traditional gum
% change in price of therapeutic gum
+5% +10% +20%
% change in quantity demanded of traditional gum
+0.5% +2% +4%
￼￼￼￼What can cities such as Peterborough do to reduce the market failure caused by discarded
gum? A remote possibility is that they might ban the sale of chewing gum as was the case in 20 Singapore in 1992. This ban, which includes imports, still applies, although it was loosened
in 2004 when therapeutic...