More than £14bn is spent on chewing gum around the world each year, British designer Anna Bullus has found a way of recycling old chewing gum. It might not sound very nice, I mean who wants to have old gum as part of their wardrobe, but gum is the second most common type of street litter after cigarettes.
Looking to tackle this litter problem, Anna has already started to recycle used chewing gum into useful objects. “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 the BBC. This is certainly good news for UK councils, who spend around £50m each year cleaning up the chewing gum that is dropped all over the place.
“I do believe that through right design, we can actually change the way people behave.”
Anna, who teaches schoolchildren about sustainability at The Design Museum in London, has been researching the chemistry of chewing gum for a while now. What she has discovered was that chewing gum is made from synthetic rubber and is a versatile material. This is because its main ingredient, the gum base, is commonly a synthetic rubber, a type of polymer similar to plastic. “It’s called polyisobutylene,” explains Anna to the BBC, “the same stuff you find in the inner tube of bicycle wheels.”
Obtained from petrochemicals, which are refined from fossil fuels like crude oil makes used chewing gum a versatile and potentially useful material. Now on a mission to collect our gum, Anna has created bright pink, bubble-shaped bins made of recycled chewing gum so people can donate their used gum. Named Gumdrop, the bins come with a message that explains that any gum collected will be recycled into new objects.
Reinforcing the message that gum can be recycled if disposed of responsibly, Anna has used old gum to create objects like coffee cups. It took 42 pieces of used chewing gum to come up with one cup. Working with industrial partners, the process first requires the bins to be ground into pieces and then it is compounded with other recycled plastic polymers. “The proportion in the mixture varies, but each object she makes contains a minimum of 20% chewing gum,” says Anna.
According to the BBC, the next step is that the gum mixture is heated to a high temperature before being expelled in an injection machine. Then the mixture containing the old chewing gum is put into an injection moulding machine and heated and then ejected as a paste, which can be moulded into new objects as it cools.
Giving chewing gum another lease of life, Anna’s innovative idea is not only helping the environment but is fundamentally changing people’s behaviour for the better. “I do believe that through right design, “ she says, “we can actually change the way people behave.”