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Council spends €37k removing gum

Cork City Council paid €37,000 to remove sticky gum from three city centre streets last year, prompting a litter watchdog to call for a levy on the product.

A total of €37,100 was spent in 2013 on the removal of chewing gum from footpaths at Grand Parade, Oliver Plunkett St and Saint Patrick’s St in Cork, according to City Hall’s John Jones, acting administrative officer in Cork City Council’s Street Cleaning and Litter Management branch of its Environment and Recreation section.

Chewing gum removal was not carried out in 2012 or 2011 in the same areas but had been targeted last year due to new surfaces being put down.

Despite the hefty bill for removal of the gum, Cork City Council has not issued any fines for disposing of chewing gum under the Litter Pollution Acts 1997 to 2009, due to the difficulty in gaining evidence.

The Gum Litter Taskforce (GLT) was established in March 2006 and is a multi- stakeholder body, consisting of the Department of the Environment, the Department of Education, Food and Drink Industry Ireland, along with the chewing gum industry.

Its second agreement runs from 2012 to 2014.

According to Mr Jones, the GLT’s expenditure of €9 million has been spent primarily on advertising and awareness campaigns.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, meanwhile, is due to launch a new advertising campaign regarding chewing gum on Wednesday, that will run until the end of the year.

However, a spokesman for Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) said the GLT was "a cop-out".

"We believe gum is a pernicious source of litter," the spokesman said, adding that when the GLT was instigated, the government of the day had been "minded" to introduce a levy but industry pressure was brought to bear.

He said a degradable form of gum could be produced that would not stick to pavements, but it would have cost implications, and a "tax instrument" would be the best way of diverting producers towards this type of gum.

The IBAL spokesman also claimed degradable gum would allow producers to avail of lower Vat rates as it would be categorised as a food.

Normal gum is petroleum -based.

IBAL said switching to degradable, non-sticky gum would limit what Mr Jones called the "labour intensive" work of lifting it from pavements, and likened its possible impact on perceptions of Ireland from abroad to the introduction of the plastic bag charge and the smoking ban.

However, a spokesman for the Department of the Environment said the National Litter Pollution Monitoring Survey had indicated a fall in the amount of discarded gum.

"It can be seen that the amount of gum litter has been steadily decreasing in the last few years from composing 30.79% of litter nationally in 2000 to 17.59% in 2012," he said.

"While the NLPMS report for 2013 has not yet been published, indications are that the proportion of gum litter was further reduced in 2013."

He said the minister would consider a new GLT agreement with the industry and said any levy would be "disproportionate to any potential gains".