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Gum amnesty! Controversial targets go up in Luton town centre

Bedford Today

Stick it, don't flick it! That's the message to Luton's chewers as the council unveils a controversial new way of tackling the town's gum problem.

In a bid to banish the modern day plague lining Luton streets, 80 GumTargets were placed around the town centre this week.

And now people are being urged to plant their used chewing gum on the targets, instead of spitting it on the street. It's a controversial approach to the 21st century scourge, which costs the UK £150 million a year in removal costs, but one which Luton Borough Council believes is strictly necessary.

Earlier this year the council paid a specialist cleaning company £16,000 to rid the streets of gum, only for the problem to rear its ugly head again a few weeks later.

And they insist that the target gum sheets will be changed six times a week so that shoppers won't be greeted by a mass of congealed gum as they stroll along George Street.

Ian Kenyon, from Meteora Ltd, the company which provides the targets, said: "The gum sheets will be changed regularly, the idea being there isn't a build-up. It's like litter bins, you wouldn't leave the rubbish to build up and only empty it once a week."

Luton is one of the first towns to take up the GumTarget Pollution Initiative, following a 12- month pilot in Bournemouth and Sheffield.

Mr Kenyon said: "The problem with gum is it makes an area that's otherwise clean and well-maintained appear littered and dirty.

"We are encouraging people to stick it in a place where it can be controlled - removed and disposed of before it becomes a problem at street level."

To begin with, Luton's targets will have gum sheets with a series of messages explaining their purpose.

But once people become more aware of the targets, the council will be looking to use some of the company's other gum sheets, designed to capture people's attention and make gum disposal fun.

They include pictures of public figures who people love to hate and will enjoy defacing, and sheets bearing topical questions complete with yes and no sections for people to "vote with their gum".

Mr Kenyon added: "We don't expect it can eradicate all the gum from the streets, we're aiming for a gradual shift in consumer behaviour.

"It's like dog fouling. A few years ago no-one bothered to clean up after their dogs, people allowed them to foul in the high street or in the park.

"Now, thankfully, we've got to a position where people feel that it is socially unacceptable to let dogs foul in public spaces.

"What we are trying to do is make people feel that it is inappropriate to drop gum in streets that are otherwise clean and well-maintained."

With the chewing gum market positively booming and market analysts forecasting a further increase in sales, it is thought the street-borne menace will continue to blight Britain's towns and cities.

Research has shown that even those classed as "good citizens" - people who are relatively responsible and consider themselves not to be litterbugs - tend to drop small pieces of rubbish like bus tickets, sweet wrappers, chewing gum and cigarette butts.

Mr Kenyon said: "The worst culprits are gum chewers and cigarette smokers because it's the kind of thing you wouldn't want to put in your pocket and take home".

"You see them in the streets every day. Responsible people walking down the streets, finish their cigarette and toss it to one side, or drop their gum, aiming for a grate or a flower planter or a bin and hoping it makes it to the right destination."

He added: "Our research shows that most people are unaware of how and when they dispose of their gum - it's a sub-conscious act that has an unfortunate knock-on effect.

"Many local authorities have spent a lot of time and effort improving the appearance of our shared public spaces , areas that are otherwise litter-free are being defaced by an increase in chewing gum pollution."

Meteora Ltd has a 12 month contract with the council, which will be renewed if the targets are a success.

Mr Kenyon said: "This is a unique approach to a problem which has been around a long time."

And if the thought of coming into contact with someone else's gum puts you off using the targets, worry not - each one has enough room for 250 pieces of gum.

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