Teknor, Gumdrop Ltd. recycle chewing gum into thermoplastic elastsomers

Companies say they have met the challenges associated with commercial production.

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October 5, 2016

Teknor Apex Co., with locations in the United States, Europe and Asia, says its custom compounding expertise has enabled U.K.-based Gumdrop Ltd. to advance its program to divert chewing gum from landfill by converting it into a raw material for thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs).

Gumdrop specializes in recycling chewing gum. Anna Bullus, a designer with a special interest in plastics and recycling, founded Gumdrop in  2009.Having created a program for reclaiming pre- and postconsumer gum for use in material it calls Gum-Tec, the company turned to Teknor Apex to develop and produce compounds from the waste stream generated by the 500,000-ton-per-year chewing gum industry. Teknor Apex says the challenge was to devise formulation and manufacturing techniques for an altogether new type of raw material to produce commercial-scale quantities of compounds that consistently meet the requirements of specific applications, including optimized elasticity, compression set, tensile properties and other mechanical properties, as well as processability.

Teknor Apex applied its expertise as a leading international custom compounder with extensive experience in TPE manufacture, says Stef Hordijk, senior market manager for Teknor Apex. “We assembled a multidisciplinary team, drawing on our capabilities for materials analysis, process engineering and manufacturing,” he says. “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.”

The chewing gum waste comprises up to 30 percent of the new gum-based TPE compounds.

“Like standard TPEs, the Gum-Tec compounds we have developed exhibit a low compression set, can be formulated for either glossy or matte finishes, readily accept colors and are recyclable,” Hordijk says.

Among the first commercial applications for Gum-Tec compounds was Wellington boots available at www.mygumboots.com. 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. 

“Our aim is to divert the substantial amount of chewing gum waste and convert it into Gum-Tec compounds for use in the runner and plastics market, giving this waste stream a second life and putting it to use in high-quality end products that contribute to sustainability,” says Bullus, founder and director of Gumdrop. “Every kilogram of chewing gum that goes into a Gum-Tec compound means one less kilogram going to the landfill.”

Teknor Apex, headquartered in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, produces flexible and rigid vinyl, thermoplastic elastomers, nylons, color masterbatches, specialty chemicals and hoses. The company operates 13 manufacturing facilities worldwide in the United States, Belgium, Germany, China and Singapore.