“Gum litter is a problem that is growing globally,” says Anna Bullus, founder and managing director at Gumdrop Ltd. “In the UK, we spend around £150 million a year cleaning up gum litter. There was no real front end solution on the market that was addressing gum litter with a recycling solution, [so we decided to develop one].”
Bullus’ London-based Gumdrop is the first company in the world to recycle and process chewing gum, whose base includes polyisobutylene, into a range of new compounds that can be used in the rubber and plastics industry.
Chewing gum is collected in the Gumdrop bins distributed throughout the UK or in personal-sized Gumdrop On-the-Go collectors. A new compound called Gum-tec is created from the used gum. “Gum-tec is our brand name for our patented process and compounds. What the application is [determines] what other magic materials we add to the recycled chewing gum to make it into all sorts of different products for the rubber and plastics industry,” says Bullus.
The Gum-tec compound can be used to make products that include new Gumdrop gum collection bins and On-the-Go collectors, as well as mobile phone covers, guitar picks, rulers and even coffee cups.
To develop Gum-tec, Bullus spent three years conducting research and tests through the Polymers Department at the London Metropolitan University. The compound can be used in manufacturing processes such as injection and blow molding.
Officially launched in 2011, the company’s success relies on strong partnerships with manufacturers and brands, and the team’s ability to constantly think of innovative ways to use technology to extract materials for reuse. The company also often asks the community for suggestions for new products and projects.
For its latest venture, Gumdrop is taking the phrase “Recycling one step at a time” quite literally. It already has bright pink Wellington boots on the market, and it’s working in collaboration with partners to launch the Gum-tec Gumshoe, which has soles created from Gum-tec. The sneakers are the result of a collaboration between Gumdrop; Explicit, a fashion brand based in Amsterdam; and I am Amsterdam, the local council in Amsterdam.
“We started with footwear as we believe that this is a really lovely circular story as we are collecting gum from the streets and then creating footwear,” says Bullus.
According to Bullus, data shows that the Gumdrop bins produce more than 50 percent reduction in gum litter over the first 12 weeks of use and reduce the amount of money spent on cleaning up gum litter. With removal costs at about £1.50 a clump, those cleaning expenses can add up. As an example, Gumdrop has 20 Gumdrop bin locations at Heathrow Airport that Bullus says have saved more than £8,000 a year in cleaning costs.
Another Gumdrop partner includes gum manufacturer Wrigley. In a recent BBC.com article, Alex Hunter-Dunn, a spokesman for Wrigley, praised Gumdrop’s efforts by saying, “Gumdrop is a really creative and innovative way to get people responsibly 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.”
Next, Bullus plans to expand the Gumdrop brand and its reach. “We are currently looking for investment to scale Gumdrop as it is not only a problem in the UK, but it is the second largest litter globally,” says Bullus. “We currently only distribute Gumdrop in the UK; however, we are set to scale this side of the business over the next few years that will see the expansion to the European Union and the United States.”