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Sunday 25 March 2018

Irish scientists solve sticky problem of chewing gum litter

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

SCIENTISTS have claimed to have solved one of the stickiest problems facing councils across the country – chewing gum litter.

A company named Expelliere International - which is based in Belfast - has launched a new product which removes gum from city streets by using two chemical agents which dissolve the gum which is then brushed away.

The whole process takes about ten seconds, and company chairman John McCandless says 'Xpelgum' could be the solution to a global problem which  costs local authorities million of euro every year.

“We're in talks with local authorities and interest is extremely high,” he said.

“I was invited to make an investment in the product when it was at laboratory stage and I knew it had great potential.  With the product, the gum appears to disappear.

“It's environmentally-friendly, non-toxic and has EU approval.  If there's a spill, just throw soil on it and flush it down the drain.”

Developed by scientists at Queen's University in Belfast, the product uses a 'super solvent' technology which breaks down the structure of the gum, allowing it to be removed without causing damage to street surfaces.

The kit includes two liquids which are applied, increasing its temperature to 80C.  In a plume of smoke, it causes a reaction which breaks down the polymers which bind it together.

The remaining black solution is then brushed and wiped away, taking all traces of the gum with it.

It can also be used on carpets, but Mr McCandless refused to be drawn on its chemical make-up, citing commercial sensitivity.

The kit will cost €350 and will remove 500 pieces of gum at a cost of about 17 cent per piece.

This compares with 57 cent per piece using conventional methods such as power or steam cleaning, the company says.

A refill costs another €350, and removes 2,000 pieces.  Negotiations are underway with a company which manufactures street-cleaning equipment to use the product, which could be used by local authorities.

Dublin City Council has spent more than €1.1m in the last three years removing chewing gum litter from the capital's streets.

The kit has been demonstrated to local authorities in Northern Ireland, as well as businesses including hotels, contract cleaners, garages, restaurants and fast-food outlets and, on Wednesday, the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.

 Expelliere International expects to sell €4.5m worth of product in its first year.

The first markets to be tackled were Ireland and the UK, followed by the rest of Europe, but interest had also been expressed from Bermuda, Mr McCandless added.

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