“I see litter as part of a long continuum of anti-social behaviour.” (Bill Bryson)

Littering is not good. But dropping one gum wrapper is no big deal. Or is it? What if all people in the world drop just one gum wrapper?

Let’s calculate

We need to know the size of a gum wrapper and we need to know the world population.

There are many types of gum wrapper, so I have decided to take a simple paper one that measures 53mm x 58mm (about 2.1 x 2.3 inches). That’s 30.74 cm2 (4.76 square inches) of paper.

The world population was estimated to have reached 7.8 billion people as of March 2020 (according to Wikipedia on 11-6-2020), so let’s use that number. A population of 7.8 billion means 7,800,000,000 people.

Big gum wrapper

Now we calculate. Let’s assume everybody throws away one gum wrapper. We pick them up and merge them together to one huge sheet. The size of this would be 5.3 x 5.8 x 7,800,000,000 cm2 = 239,772,000,000 cm2.

Hmmm, it needs some more calculations to visualize the size of our waste.

There are 10,000 cm2 in a square meter, so we discarded 23,977,200 m2 of paper.

There are 10,000 m2 in a hectare, so the size of our gum wrapping covers 2,397 ha.

A soccer field is 0.5 hectare, so we could cover 4,794 soccer fields.

The size of Vatican City is 49 hectares, so we could cover 49 Vatican Cities.

And as there are 100 hectares in a square kilometre, the size of our sheet of gum paper is 23.97 km2, that’s an area of 4 by 6 km.

Paper weight

We know the area of our waste, but how many kilos of paper is involved?

The paper we usually use to make photocopies has a weight of 80 grams per square meter. Perhaps our gum wrapper is a bit thinner, so let’s work with a weight of 60 gram per square meter.

23,977,200 m2 has a weight of 23,977,200 x 60 = 1,438,632,000 grams = 1,438,632 kg = about 1,439 metric tons

A mid-size car weighs about 1,500 kg, so our littering of gum wrappers has the same weight as 960 cars.

Perhaps dropping one gum wrapper is a big deal after all.


“Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.” (Lex Luthor)

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