Love it or hate it, chewing gum tops the list for one of the most loathsome substances to remove from floors, pavements, clothing, etc. Inconsiderate disposal of the chewy stuff has long been a public nuisance. It actually became a banned substance in Singapore in 1992, and whilst the law was relaxed in 2004, chewing gum littering still carries heavy penalties.
While it is still tolerated in the UK, graduate Anna Bullus (3D Design BA(Hons) 2007) has been on a mission to tackle the sticky problem of gum littering.
What inspired you to tackle the problem of chewing gum littering?
I was studying three-dimensional design and became very interested in the recycling of kerbside litters. One of the litters I became aware of was gum litter. I couldn’t find anyone who was recycling this type of litter. This was in my last year at Brighton (2006/07).
How did you discover the potential use of discarded chewing gum?
Through a lot of experimentation, as well as speaking to and getting advice from people who had a wealth of knowledge in polymer science.
What about the hygiene issue?
We recycle at such high temperatures that this is not an issue for us. People often ask this question as it is quite a disgusting material to collect and deal with! I always give the example of going to eat in a restaurant, we are all very happy to eat off the knives and forks that are provided that have been in thousands of other people’s mouths. These are just put through a dishwasher at a much lower temperature to what we work at!
What do you make with used gum?
It is a really versatile material and can be used for a variety of applications. The applications that we are focusing on are footwear, automobile, construction and mass-produced furniture. We are able to compete with thermoplastics and thermoplastic elastomers.
Tell us more about Gumdrop.
Gumdrop has been designed to collect post-consumer waste gum and is based on a closed loop process. When full, the whole Gumdrop is recycled to produce three new Gumdrops.
How did your course at the University of Brighton help you with Gumdrop?
The course at Brighton allowed me the freedom to really experiment with materials. It was the platform for the start of Gumdrop as it is today.
Where can we find Gumdrops?
We mainly work with the education sector, retail, travel and entertainment sector. The most public places that we currently work at are Heathrow Airport as well as Kensington and Chelsea Council. We shall be working more publicly, moving forward now that we have introduced a new street bin to our collection.
How much impact have Gumdrops had in tackling the problem of chewing gum litter?
The Gumdrops are reducing gum litter in the areas that they are installed by an average of 46% across the board. Every day we strive to improve on this. We just had a fantastic result on Kensington High Street in London, where we managed to reduce gum litter by 85%.
Your innovation has garnered a lot of awards already, can you list a few?
2012: Wired Magazine ‘Europe’s 100 Hottest Startups 2012’
2012: Homes & Gardens Eco Designer of the Year Award
2012: Tomorrow’s Cleaning Best Product Award
2011: Selected as one of Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs’ Green Heroes
What have you got planned next?
We are just about to launch a new range of kids’ and adults’ wellington boots – Gum-tec Gumboots. We shall be officially launching in September at Bestival but you can pre-order a pair on our website now.
You can follow Anna’s company, Gumdrop on Twitter.