Abandoned bicycles require recycling attention, says BAN

Abandoned bicycles require recycling attention, says BAN

Organization says sharing-service bikes usually contain potentially hazardous batteries.

August 10, 2018
Edited by Brian Taylor

Pictured above: Abandoned ride-sharing bicycles in a Chinese city. Credit: SupChina, supchina.com.

Recyclers may see metals and tire recycling opportunities in the form of bicycle ride-sharing business models, but a not-for-profit group is warning them to be mindful of potentially hazardous materials found in the discarded bikes or scooters.

The Seattle-based Basel Action Network (BAN) says ride-sharing bicycle companies like China-based Ofo or shared scooter distribution firms such as California-based Lime need to “establish responsible end-of-life policies to ensure maximal reuse and safe and responsible recycling for those bikes and scooters that cannot be reused.”

“These bikes when scrapped are actually a form of electronic waste,” says BAN Founder and Director Jim Puckett, who says BAN is calling on all bicycle and scooter ride-share companies, and the city governments that license them, to work together on recycling programs.

“On the one hand, even the nonmotorized bikes contain hazardous lithium-ion batteries and toxic circuit boards,” says Puckett. “On the other hand, they can be refurbished for children or used for transport in developing countries. If that is not possible, the parts such as GPS units, electric locks, motors and wheels can be harvested. For both their value and their toxicity, these bikes should not just be treated as garbage or scrap metal,” he states.

BAN says bike-share companies can tout their environmental credentials in reducing the carbon footprint of urban transportation, but “they have failed as yet to reduce the toxics footprint or embrace the circular economy. The concern becomes more acute as more and more ride-share companies are transitioning to electric powered vehicles with even larger batteries and more hazardous components,” he comments.

Lime has been sending used units to scrap yards in Colorado and Arizona, according to BAN. Bicycles distributed by China-based Ofo “have been the subject of stunning pictures of massive bike dumps in China [and] have now been revealed to be creating their own piles of scrap here in the U.S.,” the nongovernmental organization says.

What BAN describes as “a small mountain of Ofo bikes” accumulated in a Dallas scrap yard this summer, with Puckett saying Dallas area residents “have been alarmed at the blatant waste of valuable bikes and parts” that seem to be part of the company’s business model.

“The question now begged is whether the new ride share companies truly just care about the environment or are they really all about grabbing customer dollars and data,” says Puckett. “We hope they move very quickly to give us the right answer before we discover more bike dumps. We stand ready to help.”