British designer Anna Bullus has devised a way to recycle chewing gum and turn it into beautiful objects, in an initiative that could save millions in public money.
“Have you ever noticed how our towns, cities, streets, parks, schools, cinemas, trains, planes and theme parks are being taken over by random white splodges?
“Have you ever taken the time to stop and look at exactly what these splodges are? Unfortunately not the work of a radical artist, alien invasion or simply a random act of nature, these splodges are a product of irresponsible chewing gum disposal.” says the project statement.
“Gumdrop” began about 10 years ago, when Bullus started looking at kerbside litter, examining random things like crisp packets and cigarette butts, trying to figure out which elements could be recycled.
“One of the litters I found was a piece of chewing gum and as a designer I was completely amazed there was nothing actually being done to recycle it,” she told to BBC.
After researching the chemistry of chewing gum, Anna discovered that its main ingredient is the same type of polymer found in the inner tube of bicycle wheels.
“It’s called polyisobutylene,” Bullus explains, “the same stuff you find in the inner tube of bicycle wheels.”
Yeah, when you chew gum you’re basically chewing rubber obtained from petrochemicals.
In order to persuade people to donate their gum instead of throwing it carelessly on the floor, Anna created bright pink plastic bins called “Gumdrop” to be hung at head-height. Of course, the bins themselves are made out of recycled gum.
The University of Winchester was the first to endorse the idea, installing 11 of Anna’s special bins on their campus. The uni also gave out hundreds of coffee cups made out of recycled gum to reinforce the message.
Liz Harris, University of Winchester’s environmental officer recalls the initial reactions, “Students would give the cup a sniff to check it didn’t smell of mint or bubble gum,”
Just 18 months later, the university decided to expand the program after noticing a drop in gum litter.
London’s Heathrow airport noticed the experiment and ran a three-month trial which they claim led to a “noticeable improvement” and saved them around £6,000 in cleaning costs.
The Great Western Railway also jumped on the hype train, installing Bullus’ bright pink bins in more than 25 of its railway stations.
The project is now being backed by Wrigley, one of the largest chewing gum manufacturers in the world. They decided to provide Anna with surplus material from its Plymouth factory.
Wrigley spokesman Alex Hunter explained, “Gumdrop is a really creative and innovative way to get people responsible disposing of their gum and binning it.
“We fundamentally believe that behaviour change is the only long-term sustainable solution to tackle the issue and we are very much behind that”
So far, Gumdrop can produce guitar picks, mugs, sports cones, boomerangs, boots, and other products, and the company plans to expand their offering in the near future.