The Gumdrop bins have been installed across the UK and beyond
Chewing gum litter: Unsightly, unhygienic and an unavoidable sight almost everywhere. Step forward Anna Bullus, the innovator whose passion for recycling led her to experiment with this very abundant waste material and in turn create the world’s first process to recycle and process it into a new range of plastics and rubber compounds.
Anna Bullus is the brains behind Gumdrop Ltd., a UK-based start-up that is campaigning to change the nation’s littering habits through its novel, closed-loop recycling solution. Founded in 2009 to tackle the global problem of chewing gum litter, Gumdrop Ltd. is the first company in the world to recycle and process chewing gum into a range of new compounds that can be used in the rubber and plastics industry.
Falling in love with plastics
The story of how the material came about started when Anna became interested in recycling whilst specialising in plastics and material experimentation at the University of Brighton. After deciding to pick up every piece of mixed-material litter she could find to investigate its recyclability, Anna unwittingly came across a piece of chewing gum discarded in an empty crisp packet.
As part of her final year project, she set herself the challenge of turning this piece of gum into a receptacle that could collect more of it and, subsequently, be completely recycled to make new bins, create a closed-loop recycling process and alleviate the problem of littering. After experimenting with what she describes as “hundreds” of different materials, temperatures and resins, she came up with a mouldable polymer and a viable design: The ‘Gumdrop’, a bright pink, bubble-shaped bin, was born.
“The course that I did at university was very hands on,” Anna told me. “I had exposure to metal, wood, ceramics and plastics. It was all workshop-based, which was great fun as you got to experience the material first hand. I fell in love with plastics; it’s versatility, colour and the different manufacturing techniques.”
A huge amount of demand
The Gumdrop project helped gain Anna a First Class Honours degree from Brighton. Inspired, she began to showcase the concept worldwide and, encouraged by the positive reception it received, made the decision to start a business, and career, out of it.
Needing to develop her material into a product that was commercially viable, she approached the Polymers Department at London Metropolitan University. Here, she spent three years developing her material from recycled chewing gum into a mouldable polymer suitable for use in injection and blow moulding, now known as ‘Gum-tec’.
“Gum-tec is the brand name we have given for a group of new compounds that are made with recycled chewing gum,” explained Anna. “Most of the compounds that we create are thermoplastic and thermoplastic elastomers. It has taken a huge amount of time to develop these different compounds and to understand which applications they would be best suited to. We are still developing and still learning new things everyday, so this process is ongoing as we get better at what we do.”
‘Dropping’ all over the UK
After finalising the material, Anna launched the Gumdrop to market in 2011. After installation at a private site, or on a street, the Gumdrops are used until full, before being sent back to Gumdrop Ltd. to be recycled and used to manufacture three new bins, which in turn can then be redistributed, before the cycle starts again.
So far, the Gumdrops have been installed at private companies, including Legoland, BAA, Royal Mail, Amey, ISS and Westfield Shopping Centres, as well as in towns and cities as part of council schemes to reduce chewing gum litter, including one in Bangor, North Wales.
Anna says the Gumdrops have proved to be a great success. They are said to be reducing gum litter by up to 46 percent in the first 12 weeks of use and are now gaining traction outside of the UK.
“We have just launched Gumdrop in Denmark, which we are extremely excited about,” explained Anna. “We have started working with schools and universities there, as well as implementing educational resources. There are so many countries that all have a gum litter problem, so I hope that we can soon start working in other European countries, as well as the US.”
The future’s green – with a drop of pink
Since the launch, the company has spent time creating other products made from the unique Gum-tec material. These include fribees, sports cones and wellington boots. Although no major retailers are stocking the products yet, the company plans a consumer launch in 2016.
Anna, who has won countless awards and achieved mass recognition for the concept, says her determination to stop littering remains steadfast. She believes that education is still the best way to change behaviour.
“It’s hugely important. We are great believers in that the more information that you give to people the more informed their decision is. We do many campaigns where we spend time speaking to the public about gum recycling and our new technology. The education side is key, as the success of the Gumdrop bins will be determined by how well we educate on why it is important to recycle chewing gum.”
Anna now aims to deliver innovation on a global scale and continues to pursue her goals by educating and inspiring the public to reduce chewing gum waste.