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Eric Shackle Writes: Non-stick Chewing Gum

Is non-stick chewing gum really wriggly, asks Eric Shackle. His question is prompted by the news that British scientists have developed a new polymer which would make gum much easier to clean off the streets. The polymer could replace a substance found in normal gum.

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British scientists have at last found a way to stop city pavements being polluted by millions of blobs of sticky chewing gum. Professor Terry Cosgrove and his colleagues have won a £12,000 prize in the University of Bristol’s New Enterprise Competition, for having developed a new non-stick chewing gum called Revolymer (Revolutionising Commodity Polymers).

"Professor Cosgrove has developed a new polymer which would make chewing gum much easier to clean off the streets, thereby saving the taxpayer millions of pounds in cleaning costs," says the University. "Similar techniques in controlling adhesiveness will be applied to other materials in coating surfaces in hospitals, medical devices, and for anti-graffiti paints and industrial coatings."

Cosgrove, the university's professor of physical chemistry, and fellow researchers have created a polymer to replace a substance found in normal gum. "It will still taste the same and look the same but it won't stick to things," he said. "It will change our environment considerably."

Ordinary gum repels water, so high pressure steam hoses are needed to remove it, at considerable expense to local authorities worldwide.

“There is quite a big step between creating something in the laboratory and putting it in your mouth," said the professor. “What we have is the base for chewing gum without any of the flavourings or other ingredients. It would be a bit like gum that’s been chewed for a very long time.”

If the world's chewing gum manufacturers switch to non-stick gum, most environmentally aware citizens will be delighted. And London pavement artist Ben Wilson will be released from his self-imposed task of drawing public attention to the gum pollution problem.
Wilson, 41, has already painted thousands of tiny pictures of faces, animals, suns, and other images on dried blobs of discarded gum, and plans to extend his unique protest all the way from Barnet to London's West End.

"I use acrylic paint and varnish, then I've got a little burner to dry it," he said. "I've done different pictures - cups of tea, elephants, flowers, etc. I do requests as well. Often I just draw whatever takes me on that day. I'm not a graffiti artist. You get so many reactions from people, their reactions are so different, but rarely are they negative."

Ed Harris wrote in the Evening Standard: "Mr Wilson has become a familiar figure in north London, crouching nose to the ground with his acrylic paints and varnishes and the burner he uses to dry his paintings. Each one is, in its way, a masterpiece of the miniaturist's art: tiny pictures of delivery vans, a woman in her underwear and a terrace house... He has created a novel way of addressing one of the capital's persistent blights: discarded chewing gum."

At a meeting of the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors in Perth, Western Australia, last month, delegates complained that chewed gum cost millions of dollars every year to remove.

Wrigley regional director John Batistich said the company was trying to develop gums that were less sticky or would break down more easily. "Whilst education is critical, we also need to look at new gum-based technologies that ultimately ensure that the product moving forward is easier to remove," he said.

A Californian reader says his town, San Luis Obispo, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, has a Bubble Gum Alley, where a wall is covered with used chewing gum pellets. Locals and tourists add their contributions every day. In the early 1960s a few wads of gum appeared stuck on a wall in the alley, then more and more. By the 1970s, shop owners complained and demanded the gum be cleaned off but it was too late, because more gum kept appearing. "Its a landmark here in SLO," photographer Robert Kaye told us.


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