Collaboration on Recycling Chewing Gum into TPEs
11. October 2016
Teknor Apex teamed up with U.K.’s Gumdrop to divert gum waste from landfills and into TPEs.
That icky-sticky stuff that sticks to the bottom of your shoes—now it can be what your shoes themselves are made of. Teknor Apex, Pawtucket, R.I. has been working with U.K.’s Gumdrop Ltd. to advance the latter’s sustainability program of diverting chewing gum waste from landfill by converting it into a raw material for TPEs. The London-based company is reportedly the first in the world to take on such an endeavor.
Founded in 2009 by Anna Bullus, a designer with a special interest in plastics and recycling, Gumdrop created a program for reclaiming pre- and post-consumer gum waste for use in material it has dubbed Gum-Tec. The company then approached Teknor Apex Co. to develop and produce compounds from the chewing gum industry’s large, annual waste stream of 500,000 tons (1-billion lbs).
Custom compounder Teknor, with its extensive experience in TPE production took on the challenge; namely, to devise formulation and manufacturing techniques from an altogether new type of raw material with the aim of producing commercial-scale quantities of compounds. Such compounds would need to consistently meet the requirements of specific applications, including optimized elasticity, compression set, tensile properties, and other mechanical properties as well as processability.
Teknor’s senior market manager Stef Hordijk noted, “We assembled a multi-disciplinary team drawing on our capabilities for materials analysis, process engineering, and manufacturing. The team addressed basic considerations such as feeding it into our equipment, formulating compound recipes using this unique raw material, determining optimal compounding process parameters, and other issues posed by such an unusual feedstock.”
Similar to standard TPEs, the resultant Gum-Tec compounds have been shown to exhibit a low compression set, can be formulated for either glossy or matte finishes, readily accept colors, and are recyclable, according to Hordijk.
The new gum-based TPE compounds are comprised with up to 30% chewing gum waste. Among the first commercial applications was that of Wellington boots. The latest is shoe soles. Some other uses are caster wheels, automotive bumpers and floor mats, window gaskets, wristwatch straps, toothbrush grips, and extruded pencils.
Director at Gumdrop, Anna Bullus said, “Our aim is to divert the substantial amount of chewing gum waste and convert it into Gum-Tec compounds for use in the rubber and plastics market, giving the waste stream a second life and putting it to use in high-quality end products that contribute to sustainability….Every kilogram of chewing gum that goes into a Gum-Tec compound means one less kilogram going to the landfill.”
The company has designed a closed-loop recycling process. Gum-Tec material is used to manufacture both the Gumdrop and Gumdrop on-the-go, pink receptacles designed specifically for the disposal of the waste chewing gum. Gumdrops are bright pink—with the look of strawberry-flavored bubble gum bubbles. Once the Gumdrop is full, the whole unit and its contents is recycled and processed to manufacture new Gumdrops.