The half life of gum


While chucking my spent chewing gum into a major retailer's landscaping, I got to wondering. Are there any insects or animals that make use of it? For food or nest building or what? What is the atomic half-life of such an item as compared to, say, plastic grocery bags?

-- Clint, the net

Just the kind of question the elves love. Food puzzlers. Gum is a food according to the FDA, but we're not too sure where it falls in the RDA pyramid. We've had them chawing away on Juicy Fruit, Cinn-a-burst, Bubbaloo, Orbitz, Big League Chew, a little Doublemint, an old stick of Black Jack we found in Pa Alice's sock drawer� A regular festival of gum around here. Then we stuck the wads out under a bush in Grandma's garden. This was about a month ago. Now we have documented a variety of varmints in the area, aside from assorted domestics. Coyotes, ground squirrels, field mice, rats, several styles of lizards and birds. We posted elves in shifts to keep an eye on the experiment. As of Saturday, all gum wads were in situ, unnibbled, rock hard, and dirty. We'd planned to document the decomposition, but by then the elves had lost interest. Turns out that most chewing gums today are made of butyl, an isoprene polymer also used to make tire linings, roofing, and adhesives. (If you think there's chicle in Chiclets, you're wrong.) Imagine an old Firestone lying in your back yard to get an idea of the half life of gum. It's so fierce that some countries tax gum to pay for the removal of the stuff from public spaces. Eventually, the butyl will crumble away, the same way your tire linings will disintegrate after many years. But so far, no animals seem to have discovered the adhesive or nutritional benefits of ABC gum. And since it smells like humans, they'd probably avoid it in the first place.

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