Idea to upcycle chewing gum takes ‘most creative idea’ prize at Ventures Curiosity program

14 June 2023

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Born out of an activity to try and sell the worst product – used chewing gum – a pair of PhD candidates, Michaela George and Max Harding, flipped their thinking.

“It got us thinking about litter and waste from chewing gum as a problem space, and how we could recycle and repurpose chewed gum,” said AIBN PhD student Michaela George.

The major problem with chewing gum is that it is not biodegradable. Unless actively removed from public spaces, the litter will be forever stuck.

“It has also been shown that clearing gum litter from the streets costs the government around 50 times what it costs to make,” she said.

“More terrifying is the fact that gum, as a proportion of itemised litter, is responsible for 9.1 per cent.”

The challenge quickly became evident to the team to incentivise people to stop littering in the first instance.

“We realised that this would require both infrastructure to support collection and recycling of chewed gum, but also a behavioural change – arguably the biggest challenge!”

“We proposed ‘gamification’ of chewing gum collection, a process which has been demonstrated to dramatically improve individual engagement with correct waste disposal practises.”

By introducing gamification of chewing gun bin collection points, the team believes they can substantiallyimprove the problem of gum waste.

“The collected gum can then be upcycled for the production of value-added plastic products with implementation of an already established polymer-recycling process.”

The team said the Ventures Curiosity program helped to bring together people with a similar passion and drive to create impact in the world.

“We developed many connections and are continually inspired by all the other students and the things they are doing.”

“One of the key takeaways, and arguably the most important focus point for a startup, is the problem being solved rather than the solution to that problem.”

“Startups often fail to take a customer-focused perspective on the issue, and this evidently results in a sub-optimal solution to the problem.”

Michaela is no stranger to the world of startups, travelling with Ventures to San Francisco earlier this year on a Startup Adventure, receiving the UQ Entrepreneurial Top-Up Scholarship, and is a scholar in the Andrew N. Liveris Academy for Innovation & Leadership.

“I have been passionate about translation and commercialisation of research since I started in the STEM industry,” she said.

“This then led me to the Ventures Startup AdVenture program, where I spent a month in San Francisco working on IP strategy in a biotech startup and immersed in the startup ecosystem of the Bay Area.”


Ventures Curiosity Semester 1 Winners
  • Most Creative Idea
    Michaela George and Max Harding (in-person)
    Polychew– Recycling chewing gum

    Marek Coleman (online)
    Maker Marek – The idea is a Business that makes and sells uniquely flavoured biscuits and cookies at local markets, shopping centre kiosks, other retailers, and online

  • Best Pitch Delivery
    Raghav Chawla, Qing Zhu, Anthony Ngo, Taha Ghadiri, Stefanie Stan, Xander Minzenmay and Blake Jones  (in-person)
    UNIversal – Streamlined platform to help alleviate student social isolation

    Isaac Philips (online)
    Franchise Visual –  A rewards system for content consumers on digital media streaming services
  • Best Business Idea
    Oliver Fletcher, Ella McElroy, Louisa Travers-Jones, Yasmin Sparks, Abby Frazer. Rodrigo Madrigal and Hannah Urbahn (in-person)
    markIT –  An idea is to create devices that have near field communication (NFC) tags for shop fronts that include product details and recommendations on what the product pairs well with

    Sachin Kubsad and Murray Colbridge (online)
    Automatic Accountability – A more efficient, hassle-free technology to solve the problem of Go Card forgetfulness and needing to tap on in a rush, affecting millions of users in Queensland