THURSDAY 7 SEP 2017 9:22 AM


Of all the bad habits which impact the urban environment, littering is for local council and pedestrians perhaps the most frustrating – and most preventable. This is particularly true of chewing gum which, as its name suggests, is one of the more difficult substances to remove from pavements, public transport or other places where it has been left unscrupulous individuals. However, a concerted effort by behaviour change campaign group, the Chewing Gum Action Group (CGAG), hopes to reinforce the negative impact of chewing gum on the environment across the UK.

Yesterday saw the exterior of Jubilee Underground line station, Willesden Green, transform into a woodland habitat, or ‘Gum Forest,’ in the first of CCAG’s 2017 campaign effort to curb littering with chewing gum. Where drain covers, benches and pavements previously greeted tube travellers, trees and grassland instead adorned the Willesden Green tube station entrance. And, while the pop-up was present for just a day, the wider borough of Brent will now benefit through being gifted parts of the forest for its open spaces and natural areas.

Psychologist Emma Kenny explains how taking measures to keep the external environment greener and free of litter has an overall impact on wellbeing. Often, says Kenny, its thoughtless behaviour and lack of awareness about the negative impacts of littering, rather than malicious intent, which causes the issue. Therefore, ensuring individuals are more in touch with their surroundings and have an increased awareness of the consequence of their action decreases the likelihood of littering.

Kenny says, “There is an abundance of research that evidences how our local environment impacts on our state of mind. The cleaner and more well-kept our surroundings, the calmer, more relaxed and in control we feel as people. Recognising that our surroundings can add to our happiness levels means that we can start to make choices about our behaviour that minimise the risk to our environment, leaving us with outdoor spaces that are consciously clean and pleasant places where we wish to spend our time.”

For the government, a more holistic approach to preventing littering is necessary to curb a vast expenditure which might be better spent elsewhere. While the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) takes the policy lead on littering at a regional level, the involvement of local councils to prevent and tackle littering ensures the Department for Communities and Local Government is also a major stakeholder in any proposed anti-littering plans. With plans to extend the pop-up Gu Forest to around 44 councils nationwide, the CGAG hopes to communicate its message beyond the capital city.

Thérèse Coffey MP, parliamentary undersecretary of state for the environment, says, “Dropping chewing gum on the street is a selfish and antisocial act that spoils streets up and down the country for everyone. I hope imaginative campaigns like the Gum Forest by the CCAG make the thoughtless minority who cause this problem think again and bin their chewing gum when they are finished.”

And, says chief executive of environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy, a CGAG partner, Allison Ogden-Newton, creating an interesting, immersive experience is a key part of spreading the CCAG's anti-littering message. says, “From our experience, we know these campaigns work and really resonate with people. The group’s 2016 campaign, for example, saw chewing gum litter reduce by an average of 36% in participating areas, demonstrating the impact CGAG’s campaign work can have on the UK’s littering behaviour.”

According to a research briefing published in July 2017, street cleaning for the year 2015/16 costed local councils around £683 million. And, while chewing gum and littering are not the only contributing factors, the actions comprise a significant amount.  By working with key partners and stakeholders in innovative and unexpected ways, the CCAG is set to make a valuable difference to the lives of millions of citizens across the UK.

For more information, visit Join the conversation on social media using #gumforest and #binityourway.