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 The average American chews 300 sticks of gum per year. Most of that gum ends up as litter!

AFRICA STUDIO/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM (SHOES); SUNFLOWERR/ SHUTTERSTOCK.COM (GUM)

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NGSS: Core Idea: PS1.A

CCSS: Writing: 1

TEKS: Science: 3.5A, 4.5A; ELA: 3.12B, 4.12B, 5.12B, 6.11B

Sticky Business

How a designer in England is giving chewed-up gum a new purpose

REX/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

You’re putting away your new notebooks at school. As you reach into the desk, your hand brushes up against something strange. Yuck! It’s a hardened glob of chewed-up gum.

Discarded chewing gum isn’t a problem just in schools. When people spit gum onto sidewalks, it hardens and can stay there for years. Cleaning it can be expensive.

Anna Bullus wanted to solve this pesky problem. She’s a designer who came up with a way to recycle chewing gum.

Today, her company, Gumdrop, makes everything from rulers to rain boots out of chewed-up gum!

You’re putting away your new notebooks at school. You reach into the desk. Your hand brushes up against something strange. Yuck! It’s a hard glob of chewed-up gum.

Used chewing gum isn’t a problem just in schools. People often spit gum onto sidewalks. It hardens and can stick around for years. Cleaning it costs a lot of money.

Anna Bullus wanted to solve this problem. She’s a designer in London, England. She came up with a way to reuse chewing gum. She started a company called Gumdrop. Today, it makes everything from rulers to rain boots out of chewed-up gum!

Getting Gummy

Ten years ago, Bullus was a university student in London, England. She noticed a lot of gum stuck to the ground near her school. Bullus wondered: Could she collect the gum and turn it into something new?

Bullus teamed up with a chemistry lab at her school. She needed a lot of gum to experiment with. “I supplied all my friends with chewing gum and said, ‘When you’re done, give it to me,’” she says.

Gum, Bullus learned, is made of an edible type of rubber. The material is very sensitive to temperature changes. That’s why it gets soft and stretchy when it warms up in your mouth.

Bullus had an idea: She could heat up old gum, press it together, and mold it into something new. It would harden again as it cooled. 

Bullus was a university student 10 years ago. She noticed a lot of gum stuck to the ground near her school. Bullus wondered if she could collect the gum and turn it into something new.

Bullus teamed up with a chemistry lab at her school. She needed a lot of gum to experiment with. “I supplied all my friends with chewing gum,” says Bullus. She asked them to give the gum back to her when they were done.

Bullus learned gum is made of a type of rubber people can eat. The material is sensitive to temperature changes. It warms up in your mouth. That’s why it gets soft and stretchy.

Bullus had an idea. She could heat up old gum and press it together. Then she could mold it into something new. It would harden again as it cooled.

Scaling Up

CHRIS HOWES/WILD PLACES PHOTOGRAPHY/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Bullus spent a year working on a prototype—or testable model—of a gum-based product. It was a small, round bin where people could deposit chewed gum.

Shaping the prototype by hand took a long time—and the bin wasn’t very sturdy. So Bullus talked to engineers and other experts to learn how to improve the process. They found that mixing other substances with the gum, such as recycled plastic, made the bins stronger.

Today, Gumdrop makes the bins at a factory and sends thousands to schools, airports, and parks in England. Once the bins are full, the company collects them. Gumdrop turns the gum and the bins into products like pencils and travel mugs.

Bullus didn’t expect her project to become a bustling business. But she’s glad that she stuck with it. “If you can persevere, there’s a solution for everything,” she says.

Bullus spent a year working on a gum-based product. She made a prototype, or testable model. It was a small, round bin. People could place used gum inside.

Shaping the prototype by hand took a long time. And the bin wasn’t very sturdy. Bullus wanted to learn how to improve the process. She talked to engineers and other experts. They found a way to make the bins stronger. They mixed gum with other things, such as recycled plastic.

Today, Gumdrop makes the bins at a factory. Then it sends thousands of them to schools, airports, and parks in England. The company collects the bins once they’re full. Gumdrop turns the gum and the bins into new products. They include things like pencils and travel mugs.

Bullus didn’t expect her project to become a business. But she’s glad that she stuck with it. “If you can persevere, there’s a solution for everything,” she says.

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