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Gumnetic: making products out of used chewing gum

Materia is always looking for the newest and most innovative materials. But even good, sustainable and innovative ideas can disappear into obscurity, never to be heard of again. That’s why it’s good every once in a while to check up on projects, to see how they’re doing. Eleven years ago, we published the material Gumnetic by Anna Bullus, made from recycled chewing gum. How is it going with this project?

After cigarette butts, chewing gum is the most common type of litter, which costs millions to clean up.

The main ingredient of common chewing gum is synthetic rubber, a type of polymer similar to plastic called polyisobutine. It is the same material as used for the inner tube of bicycle wheels (tasty, right?). The material is obtained from petrochemicals, which are refined from fossil fuels.

Eleven years after its conception, Gumnetic is still going strong, and is produced by designer Anna Bullus’ company Gumdrop. Bullus started by creating bright pink, bubble-shaped bins called Gumdrop that are designed for disposal and collection of chewing gum. The bins themselves are made of recycled chewing gum. The University of Winchester was one of the first places to use the bins, with 8,000 people living and working on its campus. Eighteen months after installing the bins, the university noticed a drop in gum litter, saving a lot of money on cleaning costs.

When the gum is collected, it goes to a recycling plant where unwanted material is filtered out, such as paper and wrappers, before grinding it into pieces and compounding it with other recycled plastic polymers. The proportion of chewing gum in the mixture varies, but each object contains at least 20 per cent chewing gum.

The recycled chewing gum material is used to make an array of products, from reusable coffee cups to shoe soles. At a plastic moulding specialist in Leicester, called Amber Valley, Bullus designs her products. The material is put into an injection moulding machine, where it is heated and ejected as a paste. This paste can be moulded into new objects as it cools.

You can order your own Gumdrop bins on the website of Gumdrop.

Photos: Gumdrop

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