Making products out of waste chewing gum is a brilliant solution to a sticky problem. How does it work?
Our Gumdrop bins (above) are the first in the world specifically designed for the disposal of used chewing gum.
Chewers drop their gum into the bin and when full, they’re sent back to us where they’re recycled into new bins as well as a host of other products like mobile phone covers and door stops. The other arm of our business is the Gum-tec side where we work with gum manufacturers to help them eliminate their waste. The large quantities of waste gum from their factory enables us to create other new products like our wellies which would otherwise require over 2,000 pieces of chewed gum to make.
When you were developing the idea, what was your eureka moment?
It was during a research project in my final year at Brighton. I started collecting kerbside waste and couldn’t believe the amount of gum litter. As I researched it more, I discovered there was no front-end solution on the market. Rather than saying ‘here’s something else you can do with your gum litter’, it was all reactive about how to clear the mess up from the pavement. I also remember reading that gum was only declared litter in 2005. I was gobsmacked by that. That was the eureka moment.
Were you always interested in green issues?
I had a slight interest before, but the University of Brighton and the course really ignited a passion within me for recycling and sustainability. The course provided the mindset ‘How can we do things better?’ which really inspired me. The tutors and technicians were amazing and made you question and think in a way that helped you focus on developing concepts for the real world. They were instrumental in inspiring me and giving me the confidence to explore the crazy ideas that I thought up. They had this brilliant way of very gently steering you in the right direction.
Where did you initially get the gum from to develop your products?
In my final year at Brighton, I used to get my friends to chew gum all the time so that I’d have enough to test various things in the chemistry lab. But it was never enough. So, I can remember getting the bus from Grand Parade to the science labs at the Moulsecoomb campus every morning, stuffing my face with gum and spitting it out into an empty cup. Other passengers thought I was mad!
Was the gumdrop bin difficult to launch?
Initially it was very difficult. After I left university I did about four years of research on the project before I was able to start any market trials. Then I needed to prove that the concept worked with real customers. Getting companies to buy into the concept at a time when plastics and recycling were not at the top of people’s agenda was a real challenge.
Where are the bins in use now?
We work with a lot of councils because the specially designed bins, or Gumdrops as we’ve branded them, are proving to be a long-term money-saver versus the cost of gum clean-up. We now have over 750 locations across the UK in high streets, rail stations, shopping centres, offices, schools and high-profile locations like Heathrow Airport and LEGOLAND. We’re also getting a lot of interest from America, several European countries and are about to start trialling in New Zealand.
In this country we’re also doing an increasing amount of work with schools. We get to go in and talk to kids and get them involved when they’re young. We then stand a better chance of changing behaviour around litter dumping.
Are your new wellies on sale yet?
It won‘t be long! They’ve taken us three years to develop and we’re now talking to manufacturers. We’re trying to keep the manufacturing process in this country if we can, but we’re aiming to launch them in time for the festival season next year. We’re really excited because not only are they as durable as ordinary wellies but they don’t use any virgin plastic and are 100% recyclable.
Are they available in any colour so long as it’s pink?
Pink will obviously be one of them because it’s the signature colour of Gumdrop. It was the first colour of bubble gum, so everything just had to be pink. But the boots will also be available in three additional colours to begin with.
Any more gummy products in the pipeline?
We’re constantly looking to develop new products and have 12 projects on the go at any one time. We’re still very much at the beginning of the technology in terms of what we can do with it. So the new markets we’re focusing on are cosmetics, apparel and footwear. The cosmetic products consist of bottles and tubes for moisturisers, shampoo and makeup. We also produced a limited edition run of 500 pairs of trainers (pictured), each made from approximately 125 pieces of gum, which sold out immediately. It was a collaboration with an Amsterdam fashion brand and Amsterdam city council, so the sole of the trainer features a street map of Amsterdam where the waste gum was collected. We’ll be replicating that project on a much larger scale very soon.
Be honest – has your work put you off chewing gum for life?
I’ve been involved with it so long that I must admit that just the smell of some flavours makes my stomach churn. But I do occasionally chew gum. I still like to do my bit to keep our Gumdrop bins topped up!