Major chewing gum producers will fund a multi-million pound effort to clean up Britain’s streets and deter people from littering, the government has announced.
With campaigners suggesting nearly nine in 10 of the UK’s streets are pocked with undigested gum, the cost of cleaning it off is estimated to reach at least £7m every year.
The government has announced that firms including Mars Wrigley, GlaxoSmithKline and Perfetti Van Melle have signed up to a new Chewing Gum Task Force and will invest up to £10m over five years in a bid to reduce gum litter.
The investment, starting later this year, will be used to clean up historic staining caused by gum litter and will use behavioural interventions to encourage people to bin their gum, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
“The stains of discarded chewing gum are a blight on our communities, spoiling our streets and wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money,” said Rebecca Pow, an environment minister.
“This new scheme means chewing gum producers are not only helping to clean up towns and cities as they welcome people back to our high streets, but crucially taking action to prevent people littering in the first place.
“We are committed to building back better and greener and this commitment to making town centres a more attractive and inviting place is a key part of our long-term strategy to breathe new life into our communities.”
The gum task force is part of the government’s new strategy to support the evolution and regeneration of high streets across the country.
The strategy includes a total of £335m in funding for community regeneration projects, the transformation of derelict buildings and a Community Ownership Fund, from which community groups can bid for up to £250,000 to take over local pubs, theatres, shops and sports grounds at risk of closure.
Littering is a criminal offence, with on-the-spot penalties for offenders costing up to £150 in some local authorities, rising to up to £2,500 if convicted in court.
The government said it is seeking powers in its looming Environment Bill to ensure that enforcement powers are “used with a high degree of professionalism, whether by council staff or private contractors, and to place our improved enforcement guidance on a firm statutory footing”.
The bill, introduced under Michael Gove in 2018 and currently awaiting its third reading in the House of Lords after several delays, also includes proposed powers to introduce a “deposit return scheme” for drinks containers, to stop plastic bottles going to landfill, and a scheme aiming to make firms responsible for the full cost of recycling and disposing of their packaging.
But campaigners at Friends of the Earth have criticised the bill as “riddled with exemptions and loopholes”, pointing to a lack of guaranteed targets on issues like plastic pollution and powers allowing ministers to weaken protections for UK species and habitats.