Anna Bullus is the founder of Gumdrop Ltd. When she left school, Anna studied for an art foundation course, graduating with a distinction before going on to study three-dimensional design at the University of Brighton, where she specialised in plastics and material experimentation. In the final year of her degree, Anna found herself in a chemistry lab experimenting with different materials, temperatures, resins and, after hundreds of experiments, she came up with a mouldable material made from recycled chewing gum that can be used to manufacture new rubber and plastic items.
“We are currently saving our customers over £1 million a year on cleaning bills. This number is growing every day, as we also grow.”
The start of my mission to clean up and recycle used gum
I spent a wonderful couple of years doing an art foundation course at Camberwell College of Arts. I then went on to study three-dimensional design at the University of Brighton. This is where I came up with the foundations of the idea for what was the start of Gumdrop Ltd. I went on to work as a junior designer for a small furniture design studio called Case Furniture, which was a sister company to SPC.
I left Case to start Gumdrop Ltd in 2008. However, Gumdrop Ltd did not really get going until the end of 2012, when we started trialling the first Gumdrop Bin with Legoland. We then won our first commercial contract in 2013 with Legoland, which is where it all started!
From managing a team to developing tech, and even running a consultancy
As Gumdrop Ltd is a small company with a small team of people, I wear a number of hats! My main roles consist of making sure that those that work for me are happy and have the support they need in order to grow the Gumdrop Bin side of the business. (As mentioned in my first Womanthology article back in 2018, Gumdrop is the first bin in the world that is not only designed specifically for the disposal of waste chewing gum, but is also made with waste chewing gum.)
This means that I get involved with our multi-site contracts that we hold for the Gumdrop Bins as well as oversee sales and marketing strategies for this side of the business to run smoothly and to hit our targets. I also heavily support the expansion of the Gumdrop Bins to overseas countries, an area we are now very focused on.
Then, 70% of my time is taken up with running the Gum-tec® side of the business and our consultancy. This involves me looking for new areas in which we can develop our Gum-tec® compounds. Working with brands that are looking for new exciting materials that hit environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) goals and tell a story is also part of the job, as well as working closely with factories to understand their needs for new materials vs. virgin materials.
We also have a consultancy where we work with and advise some of the blue-chip companies we already work with through the Gumdrop Bins. We work closely with them to look at how we can make other waste streams within their business more efficient, closed-loop, or simply eliminate through process-driven design and innovation resulting in new intellectual property.
The secret of Gum-tec®
I would love to share more about the technology that turns gum into producing other objects, however, this is something we hold close as it is our unique selling point that sets us apart! What I can tell you is that we mainly produce plastic and rubber compounds using recycled waste gum. These compounds are developed for commercial processes for the likes of injection moulding, extrusion and blow moulding.
Getting back up to speed after COVID
We consider Gumdrop Ltd to be made up of three sides: Gumdrop Bins, Gum-tec® and consultancy. On the Gumdrop Bin side, we had great momentum and were in the midst of finalising some overseas contracts pre-COVID. However, these were all put on hold because of the pandemic, so the expansion we hoped to see last year was not to be.
Furthermore, due to the lockdowns, all our public contracts for the UK were put on hold. However, luckily for us, the Gum-tec® side of the business was not affected. This is because a lot of the projects in the pipeline are long-term projects taking anything up to three years to launch.
I am pleased to say that things now are slowly coming back and the pace has quickened. We are looking forward to getting back up to speed with our overseas programme and the other local projects we had for the Gumdrop Bins.
Exciting new products made of gum!
We have added a number of new products to our own brand range since we last spoke: pencils, note pads, and we have some exciting new stationery products joining the collection in the next six months.
The collaboration with Adidas is a great step for us in terms of working with a worldwide renowned brand that has seen the positive credentials in working with Gumdrop and Gum-tec®.
We have been working with Adidas for a number of years on this project as it involved a lot of development work on our side. It is a fantastic platform for Gumdrop to tell the Gum-tec® story, as well as raising awareness of the Gum-tec® brand and highlighting that through innovation we really can start to address costly waste streams.
Saving gum and saving money
The stats are still broadly the same since we last spoke, in 2018, however, we know that it costs around 3p to buy a piece of gum and anywhere up to £1.50 to remove. This is hugely expensive, and that is why at Gumdrop we are heavily focused on supplying Gumdrop, a front end solution to gum litter, focusing on behaviour change through innovation.
We are really proud that all of our Gumdrop Bin customers are saving more than the worth of their Gumdrop contract by having Gumdrop Bins installed. We are currently saving our customers over £1 million a year on cleaning bills. This number is growing every day, as we also grow.
Lots to look forward to, personally and professionally
I am just about to have my second child (next week!), which we are thrilled about! I will be taking a little time off to spend with my family.
We also have some exciting things coming up which I am really excited about. We will be launching a new website, which will be coming in the next couple of months. Also, the overseas contracts that we were discussing have now come back into play with trials kicking off later this year. This is in addition to other Gum-tec® projects which are also due to launch at the end of this year. I can’t say too much about these, apart from ‘watch this space.’
There’s lots to look forward to!