Dawn of the chewed gums

 By Simonetta Sandri

Indicated, in 2010, as one of the twenty women who will change the world, today the University of Brighton has included her “Women of Impact”, for her thoughts, ideas and ability to lead innovating change. She is the Product Designer Anna Bullus, born in 1984, and she has a mission: to recycle discarded chewing gum…

We know now that waste can be given a new life and turned into something useful. If the possibility also emerges to deal with the material that often gets stuck under the soles of our shoes, i.e. chewed gum, that would not only be a benefit but a pleasure. And, at last, someone has thought about this, starting not only from the annoyance that every serious walker has, at one time or another, had to face, but above all, from the data. In fact, around the world chewing gum had an annual cost of about £14 billion and is the second type of waste on our streets, after cigarette butts. In the UK, about £ 50 million a year is spent on repairing the damage. Here then is the idea of Anna Bullus, born in 1984, a former student of the University of Brighton’s College of Arts and Humanities: collection and recycling. By studying the chemistry of chewing gum, Anna discovered the main ingredient, the base rubber, commonly known as a synthetic rubber, a type of polymer similar to plastic, called polyisobutylene, the same material that is used for the inner tubes of bicycle tyres and that is derived from petrochemical products, refined from fossil fuels such as petroleum. So while the young designer immediately understood how chewing gum, once discarded, can be a versatile and potentially useful material, the problem remains how to convince people to “donate” their gum instead of throwing it away, usually by leaving it carelessly and with a degree of nonchalance on the pavements of our, both elegant and popular, streets and squares. As an integral part of Anna’s strategy has been the creation of bright pink bin with rounded sides, a bit like a bubble (and try not thinking immediately of the Big Bubble!…), where the chewed gum can be collected: a Gumdrop®, which can be hung at head-height at the height, made of recycled chewing gum, Gum-tec® (a polymer that she created with some ingredients that are still top secret, and which she has named BRGP, Bullus Recycled Gum Polymer).

Chewed gums Gumdrop® Bin

A message next to the bins explains that any gum collected will be recycled into new objects. The result? The University of Winchester where about 8,000 people live and work on campus was among the first to adopt the bins because the authorities wanted to keep it clean chewing gum waste. After the installation of the 11 bins, to reinforce the message, hundreds of coffee cups made of recycled rubber were distributed to first-year students. Eighteen months later, the University noted a fall in the amount of chewed gums thrown onto the streets of the campus and expanded the scheme. The same successful experiment has been carried out by Heathrow Airport, the Great Western Railway train stations, Legoland, Southampton Airport and a number of other places. The problem has not yet been solved, but a good start has been made. The second part of Anna’s challenge was to find industrial partners willing to recycle old gum to produce new objects. Then along came support from a recycling plant in Worcester, a plastic printing specialist in Leicester (Amber Valley), or, more recently, from Wrigley, an industry giant that has picked up the challenge of experimenting ways of transforming discarded gum into objects. The gum is collected, heated and reworked, and some shoe soles are now made of old chewing gum. A nice role-reversal if you think about how often you’ve tried to get it off…

Gumshoe®, the first shoe ever made from chewing gum

READ MORE: Boyan Slat, the plastic hunter by Veronica Guin

about the author
Simonetta Sandri