Chewing gum is pretty much synonymous with all things sticky, tacky and gummy. But now scientists have developed a nonstick version that removes easily from pavement, hair, shoes and clothes.

Before: 'Clean Gum' in the Hair
Before: ‘Clean Gum’ in the Hair

After: Gone After One Wash
After: Gone After One Wash

The chewed bits also degrade naturally in water and could significantly reduce the amount of gum pollution gunking up sidewalks and parking lots.

"If you stick this chewing gum onto a sidewalk, within 24 hours the gum has disappeared," said Roger Pettman, chairman and CEO of Revolymer, the London-based company formed to develop and market the gum.

Pettman said that the gum doesn’t vanish into thin air, but gets broken up by a combination of foot traffic and environmental effects and probably gets swept into the sewer.

What it doesn’t do is stick to shoes or the pavement — a problem that the gum’s inventor, professor of chemistry Terence Cosgrove of Bristol University in London, thought he could overcome.

Cosgrove, who is an expert in things that stick or don’t stick, was inspired to develop the gum after noticing a high amount of disgusting black spots of discarded gum on a Bristol University sidewalk.

The solution, said Pettman, is fairly simple.

Traditional chewing gum is generally made up of chains of molecules that repel water and attract oil. On a sidewalk, the gum bonds with oils and grease trapped in the concrete.

"When you try to pick it up, you stretch it which makes it stick even more," said Pettman. "It flows into the pores of the sidewalk and becomes very adhesive."

The nonstick version, called Clean Gum, also has chains of molecules that repel water. They make up some essential part of the gum like its flavor (peppermint, lemon or fruit) and its chewiness.
But these chains of molecules encapsulate the oil, while another group of molecules attract water. That attraction to water helps remove the gum later from any surface.

In addition to testing the Clean Gum on pavement, researchers also tested it in hair and in clothing. They found that using shampoo got the gum out of hair; a cycle through the washing machine got the gum out of cotton clothing; and soap and water removed it from leather.

"You will find lots of evidence of people trying to remedy this problem," said Tim Long, professor of chemistry at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

A lot of the ingredients that make gum chewable, tasty and safe in the body are the very materials that like to coat and interlock with surfaces.

"It’s a double-edged sword, that’s the challenge," said Long. "Without some really breakthrough technologies and different ways of thinking it’s a difficult solution to solve."

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tackled, said Long.

"The exciting thing about this disclosure is it could honestly fix the problem," he said.

Revolymer is in the process of acquiring the necessary authorization from food standard and safety groups in Europe and the United States and expects to begin manufacturing and selling the gum in 2008.

Via: Discovery Channel