Gum-Tec: Recycling chewing gum into thermoplastic elastomers

Chewing gum may not be the most prevalent form of solid waste in terms of volume, but it is one of the most annoying. Most people have had the experience of finding gum sticking to the bottom of their shoes and having to pry it loose.

Can you recycle chewing gum? According to Plastics Technology, Teknor Apex in Pawtucket, R.I. has partnered with Gumdrop Ltd in the UK to recycle chewing gum and turn it into recycled-based TPEs or thermoplastic elastomers, a kind of hybrid of plastic and rubber that has some of the characteristics of both substances. The material can be molded and shaped much like plastic but is elastic like rubber.

TPEs are used in a variety of products, including automotive and appliance parts, medical devices, shoe soles, wristwatch bands, and a variety of other products.

The chewing gum industry creates roughly 500,000 tons of waste per year. Teknor has developed a closed-loop recycling process that feeds in chewing gum waste and creates a new kind of TPE called Gum-Tec. Gum-Tec can be created either as glossy or matte, can be made in a variety of colors, and itself is a recyclable material. The new type of recycled-based TPEs, or thermoplastic elastomers, is comprised of 30 percent chewing gum waste with the rest consisting of other materials.

The chewing gum-based material is even being used to create pink boot shaped receptacles that are being used to dispose of used chewing gum. When the containers are filled, the receptacles and their contents are retrieved and used for the recycling process.