While studying product design at the University of Brighton, Anna Bullus gave herself an interesting project: She'd pick up every single piece of litter she could find on the way home, then Google each one to see if it was recyclable and how. Inside an empty bag of potato chips she found a piece of spent chewing gum. Her searches for how to recycle chewing gum turned up empty.
So no one was recyling the stuff, yet it was everywhere, all around the world. Every New Yorker has trod on subway platforms caked in black dots that used to be chewing gum, and Brighton's sidewalks apparently suffer from the same affliction. Bullus became determined to develop a worthwhile use for the stuff.
After spending eight months in the U. of B. chemistry lab, then a further three years at the London Metropolitan University's Polymers Department, Bullus succeeded in turning spent chewing gum into a polymer-like material that she calls Gum-Tec. According to British Plastics & Rubber magazine,
"Gum-tec is the brand name we have given for a group of new compounds that are made with recycled chewing gum," explained Anna. "Most of the compounds that we create are thermoplastic and thermoplastic elastomers. It has taken a huge amount of time to develop these different compounds and to understand which applications they would be best suited to. We are still developing and still learning new things everyday, so this process is ongoing as we get better at what we do."
Like plastic, Gum-Tec can be injection- and blow-molded, and the first product Bullus designed with it is rather brilliant: Called the Gumdrop Bin, it's a bubblegum-colored receptacle that passersby are meant to spit their gum into.
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Once the bins are full, the company Bullus set up, Gumdrop LTD., collects the spent gum and uses them to create more bins. (One bin full of gum yields another three bins.) Launched in 2011, Gumdrop Bins have been installed at post offices, shopping centers and in towns and cities across the UK. Studies show that the bins reduce local gum litter by nearly 50% within 12 weeks of being installed.
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Gumdrop LTD. is currently in the process of signing deals in Denmark, and Bullus has her sights set on other cities across Europe and the U.S. This year they're also launching an entire line of Gum-Tec-based consumer products including cups, plastic utensils, guitar picks, frisbees, doorstops, rulers, food containers and hairbrushes (the latter being quite ironic as gum is typically the worst thing you can get in your hair). Interested distributors can learn more here.
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