Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

154

July 17, 2012 • Gear Bits, News

New Synthetic Polymer Helps Solve ‘Sticky’ Chewing Gum Messes

When was the last time you were walking on a beautiful paved path, sitting on a bench, walking through a school or shopping area … and you DIDN’T see wads of used chewing gum dropped on the ground, stuck to walls and doors and desks and so on? Or watched a teen blow a massive bubble that popped and got residual gum all over their face and clothes that took hours to clean out?

IT IS ONE OF THE GREAT PROBLEMS OF OUR TIME!

OK, so perhaps not. But compounding the general annoyance and ‘yuckiness’ are two REAL problems: health concerns and clean-up costs. In terms of clean-up, the lazy way many people ‘take care’ of used gum has resulted in enough of an issue that Disney theme parks don’t sell gum inside the park. Many places, such as Universal Studios and Busch Gardens, have followed suit.

In terms of health risks, for most people it is obvious – you wouldn’t grab a door handle that someone had just licked, and it is no less nasty to put your hand down on a bench into the sticky mess of someone’s pre-chewed gum. The oral transfer of communicable diseases is a real issue with the improper disposal of gum.

So imagine if a new polymer technology came along that would make gum less prone to stick to hair and more easily removed from surfaces – it sounds pretty cool. Well, it did right up until I read the press release … which took a jovial tone about how UK/US company Cambridge Consultants “didn’t waste time chewing over a request”, and set on equal footing Revolymer’s gum products and household cleaners! Fortunately they managed to avoid mentioning the Industrial Sealants within the chewing gum press release!

Here is the press release:

More than 374 billion pieces of chewing gum are made every year – and, on average, each piece of dropped gum takes two minutes to clean up. So leading technology design, development and consulting firm Cambridge Consultants didn’t waste time chewing over a request for an independent assessment of the technology involved in ‘non-stick’ chewing gum, as well as the market opportunities and risks. And its work has now helped polymer specialist Revolymer raise £25 million in an over-subscribed IPO.

Revolymer has pioneered the development of a moisture-retaining polymer that can make discarded chewing gum easier to remove. Its portfolio of polymer-based innovations also includes nicotine gum, and high-performance household cleaning and personal care products.

When it needed to raise funds to expand the development and commercialisation of its products, Revolymer sought admission to AIM and so turned to the technology and market expertise of Cambridge Consultants for an independent analysis of its technology and product applications.

“Cambridge Consultants has added genuine credence to the business through its assessment of Revolymer’s technology portfolio,” said Rob Cridland, chief financial officer of Revolymer. “It has a credible reputation throughout a variety of industries for providing independent constructive technical expertise. This input has allowed us to clearly define our unique position in the fast-moving consumer goods space.”

Cambridge Consultants carried out extensive research into Revolymer’s technology and product portfolio, its target markets, and its business strategy and capabilities – marrying up assessment of the science with the commercial opportunities and risks. It concluded that although Revolymer’s technologies are addressing some challenging issues, the risks are consistent with the current stage of development of the company and it has the expertise to address the challenges.

“Revolymer has demonstrated its polymer portfolio in the fast-moving consumer goods market and benefits from potentially significant opportunities,” said Clare Beddoes, project manager at Cambridge Consultants. “Demonstrating the business case of innovative solutions in niche markets to potential investors can be challenging, and we are well positioned to add value to the proposition of exciting new ventures such as this.

When I read the press release I was at once unimpressed by the ‘first world problem’ nature of the product, as well as the rather silly tone and lack of depth and focus on the real issues in the release. In fact, my first impression was ‘great, hygroscopic gum … now instead of dried gum stuck everywhere we will have goopy blobs everywhere!’

But then I checked out Rev7.com, and a couple of ‘how does it work’ pages and felt a bit better. Sure it remains a first world problem – but I revert to my earlier question- if you could choose something that works the same but has more functional attributes … wouldn’t you at least TRY it?

Aside from the core requirements of being a satisfying chewing gum – something that needed to be addressed for nicotine and caffiene gums – the two main functional design elements were removability and degradability. Rather than simply being hygroscopic to keep in moisture, Rev7 is ‘Amphiphilic’, meaning that it has polymer elements that both attract (hygroscopic) and repel water (hydrophilic). This gives it unique physical properties that make it much easier to clean without simply remaining a goopy mess for a while.

Degradability wasn’t even addressed in the press release, but it is also critical. Imagine that after a few rain storms all of that gum stuck to the benches near the gazebo in the town square simply dissolved and was washed away? Sure there are concerns about synthetic polymers and other chemicals contained in the gum, but they are tiny compared to the usual methods of clean-up involving steam and power washing (usually with chemicals in the cleaning solutions), burning, scraping, and harsh chemical treatments.

But I am not without reservations – ‘normal’ gum is made from a base of rubber, wax and plastic and not meant to be swallowed because it is indigestible. It is hydrophilic, which gives it the continued rubbery feel – or ‘mouth texture’ as Revolymer describes. Replacing some components with a partially hygroscopic material might still provide a positive ‘mouth texture’, but I cannot help but think that it will also impact the moisture balance in the mouth.

Also, most gums are made with either processed sugar (corn syrup) or chemical sugars (aspertame). I am not an organic chemist but I have worked around some brilliant ones through the years and learned much about non-linear mixtures and some of the unexpected new properties of materials with multiple water properties and different polymer types all entangled. So my concern there is that marketing it as a ‘drop in’ for gum makers has me wary of unintended outcomes.

This is clearly not a huge issue – Carly even joked about a warning to peanut butter makers that soon their product will see a drop in volume as it is no longer needed to remove gum from hair! But I go back to my earlier thought – if there is a way to do something you already do in a way that shows lessened environmental impact … wouldn’t you at least try?

What do you think? Will you check out the Rev7 gum and see if is a concept worth pursuing?

Leave a Reply