Eco filmmaker Andrew Nisker’s about to raise alarms regarding a pervasive daily habit many of us share.
His latest documentary The Dark Side of the Chew closing the 15th annual Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival this Sunday lifts of the veil off gum pollution.
It’s a complex problem that like smoking is widespread and initially seemed innocuous but does great harm to our health and environment.
Nisker opens by asking people on the street if they’re currently chewing a piece of gum. Fifty percent are. Nisker shows us that if gum isn’t properly disposed of, it lands on the ground, birds eat it and die.
It forms a bacteria-heavy surface – check your local night club sidewalk – and eventually finds its way into our lakes and lands. And because it is no longer made of the natural substance chicle but of plastic, it’s here for good. and that’s cause for alarm.
Andrew – you’ve traveled far and wide for the documentary which brings home the “weight” of the problem of gum on our planet. What sparked the idea?
While researching my film Garbage! The Revolution Starts At Home (Sundance, Netflix) I discovered that chewing gum was the second most common form of litter on the planet (after cigarette butts).
That, I thought was an interesting fact. As it turns out, the story why gum has been crowned #2 was worthy of making a film about.
You show that gum pollution is expensive to control and gum is non-biodegradable. Our environment is nearly paved with the vile stuff. So why are we ignorant about it?
We have never questioned it because, it seems so benign. Most walk past it every day, thousands of pieces of gum litter and never thought twice about it.
But, when you start to piece the story together on global scale it becomes shocking. I know it wasn’t on my radar before I made this film. Dark Side of the Chew will hopefully change that and inspire consumers and manufacturers to change our current situation.
Also wildlife is profoundly affected by gum, it kills, but it looks like food particularly to birds.
When plastic pollution gets into the water, it acts like a sponge, absorbing toxins. Then, wildlife can mistake it for food. That’s one way pollution enters the food chain.
Our only hope to reduce this vicious cycle is to educate the public about how detrimental plastic pollution can be to the environment and ultimately our health.
Although we are just starting to learn how much gum polymer enters the watershed, hopefully making the connection between gum pollution and water quality, will inspire gum chewers to dispose of their waste responsibly.
There are many reasons gum is so popular but it seems many of these reasons are based on decades-old marketing campaigns. You compare it to smoking.
There is really no comparison to smoking other than the way gum was and continues to be marketed, for its medicinal value.
Obviously, cigarettes are no longer marketed as a healthy habit, quite the opposite. In Dark Side of the Chew we question the medicinal qualities of gum and come up with some pretty interesting results.
Gum was an innocent chew until manufacturers switched chicle for plastic. No wonder major manufacturers wouldn’t speak to you. Was that frustrating?
Some manufactures spoke to us like Rev7 and Chicza because they were not worried about being open and transparent about their products.
Yes, it was frustrating that we were unable to get the access that we wanted but in the end the film is stronger because of access we got from smaller more progressive companies.
Is chicle-based gum likely to make a comeback?
Hopefully, but there is no way it can every replace the existing demand for modern synthetic gum. We hope Dark Side of the Chew will inspire gum manufacturers to formulate a more environmentally friendly chew and product packaging.
Despite the gloom and doom aspects of the war with gum, the film is light and entertaining and can gently educate children and adults.
It’s an amazing tool to engage children and people of all ages in talking about environmental issues and to raise awareness about social and environmental impact of something we do globally, every second of the day.
You made Garbage!, Chemerical, Orange Witness and now Dark Side of the Chew. What’s next?
I have lots of ideas but at this stage I can’t talk about them. It’s my trade secret!!
Do you see yourself as an eco-warrior with a camera?
More like a Dad who cares about the environmentally legacy I’m leaving my kids. Yes, my camera is my weapon of choice 🙂
Planet In Focus Film Festival, Toronto Sunday November 9th 2014 at 6P.M