April
14 - 2010

Wednesday On Waste – Bike Waste

The Bicycle Revolution - photo by FrAcTuReD...fOtOs

The Bicycle Revolution – photo by FrAcTuReD…fOtOs

This week’s Wednesday on Waste, like last week’s, comes thanks to a question from a reader. Matt wrote:

I have used, worn out bike parts made of aluminum but also titanium. It kills me to throw good recyclable alloys like that, especially rare earth minerals like titanium. So I have a box of parts I can’t bear to get rid of–worn out rims, cranks, rings, brakes, stainless chains, cassettes, etc. I really want to do the right thing with them. Available suggestions are pretty lame.
Cycling is generally good for the environment, but cycling a lot generates surprising waste, and there is no obvious industry dedicated to recycling it like there is for cars. I suspect a lot of really expensive, useful rare metals get thrown away, beautiful things like this titanium cassette.

Some of the “lame” options Matt mentioned include suggestions like “See if someone wants the bike you aren’t using.” Now, that’s a great suggestion — but let’s try to dig a little deeper.

Matt is really wondering about the broken bits and pieces that are no longer usable for a bike. If you have a good friend who can use those parts to rebuild bikes, sure, you might ask him or her if they can use them for something. But for most of us, that’s not going to be practical, and odds are good that even the most eco-friendly bike builder only has time and capacity for so many broken objects.

Let’s take a look at the other options for dealing with this waste.

Give it a new artistic life

There are a lot of cyclists in this world, and a lot of upcyclers, and bike parts can be pretty cool looking, and therefore some no-longer-usable parts are indeed in demand to be used again.

  • Resource Revival accepts boxed bicycle chains — you collect ’em, they’ll pay the postage. Their retail store has a lot of great gifts for bicycle lovers. They also offer recycled awards and trade-show promotional items – super cool!
  • Re-Cycled Accessories makes jewelry and belt buckles, and thanks the local bike shops that recycle with RCA.
  • Bike Furniture Design accepts donations and will give you a discount on their stuff in exchange for your stuff.

If shipping your junk away seems like too much to ask, post it on Craigslist or Freecycle in your area. You might be surprised at what people will take. (Ask me about my freezer-burned turkey … isn’t a bicycle cassette more appealing?)

Recycle the bike parts

You might be able to give the parts of a bike to a business or organization that repurposes bike parts into new bikes, or sends them overseas to be repurposed.

Alternatively, look in your area for a recycling center that offers recycling services for hard-to-recycle materials. For example, Boulder, Colo.’s Eco-Cycle accepts bicycle parts.

Pertinent to Matt’s question, if you have truly worn-out metal parts and you don’t have the time, resources or quantity to send them off for re-use, you can recycle them as scrap metal.

If you don’t need to make money on them, your local recycler might accept scrap metal. Because recycling metal often is less expensive/energy-intensive than mining and alloying new metal, it often commands higher resale prices, which helps support other municipal recycling activities. (This is why my municipal recycling organization has pleaded with residents to give them our aluminum cans rather than turning them in elsewhere for cash.)

If your local recycling won’t accept scrap metal, you can search online for “scrap metal recycling” in your area. You will probably need to collect a measurable amount to make a pay-for-play option very appealing. But if you are interested in making some extra cash, read this guy’s article and go on a metal hunt around your neighborhood to accumulate enough to be worthwhile. Or, again, list your scrap metal on Freecycle or Craigslist — I bet someone will come take it off your hands so they can recycle it.

What have I missed?

I suspect there are some enterprising bicycle-part-recyclers out there. Do you know of a better way to recycle the waste generated by cycling?

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