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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rubber Made from Chewed Gum Could Replace Plastic


by Jaymi Heimbuch, San Francisco, California

gumdrop website image
Image via The Gumdrop Bin

It's not news that chewing gum is the scourge of city sidewalks. Nor that it takes a lot of money and energy to clear gum off walkways, shortening the lifespan of the surfaces at the same time. Designer Anna Bullus read the statistics of the gum problem in London -- that the government spends £150 million annually to clean up gum, over 30,000 pieces of which end up stuck to Oxford street alone each day -- and she decided there must be a better way to deal with the problem. So, she headed to the laboratory and came up with a way to transform chewed gum into a useful rubber that can be made into anything from toys to boots. But she's starting out by making chewed gum into discrete but identifiable waste bins for used gum.

gumdrop website image

The Gumdrop Bin by Anna Bullus is potentially a perfect solution to the problem of chewed gum. She cites that over 3.5 billion pieces of gum are discarded every year, too many of which end up on sidewalks, but by posting small repositories like the Gumdrop, they can be collected and transformed into something new.

The Guardian writes that Bullus "spent eight months working in a lab, trying to turn old gum into a new material...From getting it to make a foam, Bullus was able to make a used-gum pellet; then, adding ingredients (these remain secret), she extracted a polymer that she calls BRGP (Bullus Recycled Gum Polymer). This is the substance she uses to make the pink bubble bins now dotted around Orpington College, where they're being trialled as gum-specific litter bins. When the bins are full, both bin and innards are recycled into new BRGP, which in turn become more bins and possibly other products, too."

gumdrop website image

There are a few inherent problems, such as keeping the Gumdrop bins empty of anything except gum, when and who collects the gum from the bins, and getting people to use them instead of spitting out their gum wherever they feel like. Getting people to notice, and understand what the pink orbs are for is a big part of the challenge. But if it becomes a useful service, then it could save cities millions in clean up efforts, and save citizens hours of cleaning shoes.

Speaking of shoes, that's exactly what Bullus hopes to make out of chewed-gum-turned-rubber: "The amazing thing is you can use it for any plastic product," says Bullus. "I'd love to do some Wellington boots, for example. Gum boots, in fact."

Chewed gum as a substitute for plastics, at least on a small scale? We'll take it.

So far the repositories are popping up around London and even in a Six Flags in New Jersey. We'll watch and see if, and how, the idea takes off.


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