Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Scientists' product could end a sticky city problem


Non-stick chewing gum that can be washed off streets and degrades naturally in the environment has been developed by a team of British scientists.

The gum contains an ingredient that coats it with a thin film of water, making it easier to remove.

Researchers at Bristol University created it in an attempt to rid the streets of unsightly mess and save authorities the money they spend on removing it from pavements.

A survey by the borough of Westminster, in London, found it took 17 weeks to clean chewing gum from Oxford Street, but within 10 days, cleaners counted 300,000 new pieces stuck to the street.

The Bristol team, led by Terence Cosgrove, stuck chewed gum in set places on the streets of Bristol and various towns in north Wales and returned later to record its fate. In all the tests, the non-stick gum washed away with rain or street cleaning within 24 hours, while standard gum remained stuck for the eight days of the experiment.

The scientists -- whose firm is a spinoff from their work with the university -- also pressed lumps of non-stick and standard chewing gum into the hair of their boss' daughter, who was planning to have her hair cut anyway.

Cosgrove said the non-stick gum was removed after several washes with shampoo, while the commercial brand had to be cut out.

What his team has developed is a polymer that can be mixed into chewing gum. Each molecular chain that makes up the polymer contains one end that repels water and another that attracts water. When the gum is chewed, the polymer attracts water in saliva, forming a thin film around it, which acts as a lubricant and prevents it from becoming sticky.

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