British designer turns sticky chewing gum waste into recycled products
The entrepreneur has created bright pink Gumdrop Bins to encourage people to dispose of their gum responsibly which is then recycled into Gum-tec, a range of compounds that can be used for rubber and plastic applications, such as Gumboots, mobile phone covers, coffee cups and packaging.
'Bullus Recycled Gum Polymer'
Bullus came up with the idea 10 years ago, when she was working on a project looking at kerbside litter such as crisp packets and cigarette butts and which ones could be recycled.
She said one of the most common discarded waste items was chewing gum and as a designer believed more could be done to tackle the problem.
After researching the chemistry of chewing gum, she discovered its main ingredient is synthetic rubber polyisobutylene, which is a polymer similar to plastic.
She approached the Polymers Department at London Metropolitan University where she spent three years developing her material from recycled chewing gum, which is now known as Gum-tec.
The material can be used in existing manufacturing processes such as injection and blow molding. She has coined a phrase for the extracted polymer called BRGP (Bullus Recycled Gum Polymer).
On its website, Gumdrop says 'When it first installs a recycled bin it is important to raise awareness of the Gumdrops and start spreading the recycling message as quickly as possible in conjunction with a fun launch at the same time to kick-start the usage of the bins'.
Who is Anna Bullus?
Bullus was born in London, in 1984. She attended Camberwell College of Art (2004-2005) specializing in 3D Design before graduating from the University of Brighton where her idea for Gumdrop was born.
During her degree she specialized in plastics and material experimentation, which led to her developing an interest in recycling. She could not find anyone or anything that re-used chewing gum at the time and realised gum waste was a major problem.
In her final year at Brighton she came up with a moldable material which could be used to manufacture a bin which would collect chewing gum and subsequently be recycled to make new bins.
After leaving University with a First Class Honours Degree in 3D Design, Bullus gained experience as a product designer with Hulger, and as a junior product developer with Case Furniture in London. At the time her ‘gumdrop bin’ project was gathering pace so she left Case Furniture to set up her own business.
"I really do believe that through the right design we can change the way people behave,” said Bullus.
Since kickstarting the campaign, the designer has installed bins at The University of Winchester, Legoland, Notting Hill Carnival, The University of Leeds, Westfield Stratford City Shopping Centre, Cardiff Council and Southampton Airport, to name a few.
Heathrow Airport also ran a three-month trial with the bins saving £6k ($8.3k) on cleaning costs and Great Western Railway installed the bins in more than 25 of its railway stations with further plans to expand the project.
Bullus has also received financial support from gum manufacturer Wrigley, which gives her surplus material from its Plymouth factory.
To recycle the waste, Gumdrop works with a recycling plant in Worcester, which filters out unwanted material, like paper or sweet wrappers, in the Gumbins before grinding the gum into pieces and then compounds this with other recycled plastic polymers.
Bullus said the proportion in the mixture varies, but each object she makes with Amber Valley molding specialist in Leicester, contains a minimum of 20% chewing gum.
Amber Valley takes the mixture containing the old chewing gum then puts it into an injection molding machine where it is heated and ejected as a paste, then molded into an object as it cools.
"There's no difference [from] the equivalent polypropylene material that it's based against, the processing temperatures and parameters are all identical," said Brett Nixon, manager, Amber Valley.
Bullus said the Gum-tec Gumboots are 100% recyclable so when customers want to change their gumboots, they can send them back to My Gumboots to recycle and as a thank you, they will get a discount on a new pair.
Even the Gumdrop Bins are made from recycled waste and are designed to look like strawberry flavored bubble gum bubbles to stand out on the street.
According to Gumdrop, some bins are full after five days while others can take four months to fill. Due to hygiene reasons they are changed every four months.
The company also encourages consumers to email their own suggestion on the Gumdrop website on what products they can make from recycled chewing gum.