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Recycle used chewing gum to keep streets clean

The solution to used chewing gum waste

Used chewing gum being left on streets is a common problem, and an expensive one to clear up, but one company has developed a solution – recycling.

There are an estimated 374 billion sticks of chewing gum sold worldwide every year, according to a study from the University of Zürich, most of which ends up as either landfill waste or dropped as litter on to floors and pavements, costing huge amounts of time and money to clean.

But U.K.-based company Gumdrop, which was founded in 2009, has developed a way to recycle chewing gum into a mouldable plastic, allowing gum to be recycled into new products such as coffee cups, lunchboxes and guitar picks.

Gumdrop's main product is a round, bright pink bin which collects used chewing gum. Once it's full, the whole bin can be recycled to make several more bins or other plastic products, creating a "closed loop" recycling process.

"The whole ethos of our company is anything we do is always closed loop, so whether we make a Gumdrop bin or an americano (coffee)mug, or a ruler we have to know that if that comes back to us we can recycle it and make it into something else," explained Anna Bullus, the company's founder, to CNBC in a phone interview.

A Gumdrop bin, made from recycled chewing gum, on a high street
Gumdrop
A Gumdrop bin, made from recycled chewing gum, on a high street

Bullus came up with the concept while studying Three Dimensional Design at the University of Brighton. After exhibiting the concept at several events and receiving positive feedback, she thought there might be a market gap and spent four years developing a commercially viable manufacturing process.

"The Gumdrop bin was born in 2010 and in 2011 offered free trials to anyone with a gum litter problem in the U.K.," said Bullus. "The turning point for us was when Legoland Theme Park accepted a free trial. I think we had 50 gumdrop bins up on their site."

Since then, several airports, universities and shopping centres have used Gumdrop bins to tackle gum litter. In December, Gumdrop is trialling a new, more robust version of the bin on Kensington High Street, a major shopping district in London.

"We have had fantastic results in terms of what the gumdrop bins are achieving. Legoland reduced gum litter by 56 percent at their theme park. Across the board, after the first 12 weeks of use we are seeing about 46 percent decrease in gum litter."

There's also a financial incentive to reduce gum litter. Southampton Airport, which installed 20 bins in 2012, saved an estimated £3,000 ($4,513) in reduced cleaning costs, according to a case study on Gumdrop's website.

Gumdrop is also recycling waste products from chewing gum manufacturers and is working on Gumdrop bin projects with major brands such as Wrigleys.

"We take their waste and we then convert that into various different compounds and use that for all the other applications," said Bullus. "Previously, a lot of it was going to landfill."

Currently, Gumdrop is mainly offering products in the U.K. but has plans to expand to new markets and offer new products. For instance, the company is about to launch a range of children's boots made from recycled gum.

"We have just started working in Denmark with the Gumdrop bins and selling a few products there," said Bullus. "I think the hope and desire for next year would be to look at the U.S. market because they are the biggest gum chewers in the world and they also do have a massive problem with gum litter."

Follow Luke on Twitter: @LukeWGraham

Clarification: This article has been amended to show that Gumdrop is working on Gumdrop bin projects with major brands such as Wrigleys.