Bicycle disposal and recycling

What are bicycles made from?

Early bikes were made of wood or iron – they were heavy and hard to ride. The main component of a bicycle is the diamond-shaped frame, and it’s this that has seen the biggest changes. Modern bike frames are made from strong, lightweight materials including aluminium, carbon fibre and titanium. Other components, such as the wheel spokes and bicycle chain are typically made from stainless steel.

Bicycle disposal

What happens if you no longer want your bicycle?

Early bikes If your bicycle is still in working order, the best way to dispose of it is to give it to someone you know. If you don’t know anyone looking for a bargain bike, then consider selling on places like Gumtree, or listing it on pages such as Freecycle.

If your bike needs to be repaired, there are various charities that will refurbish and repurpose your bicycle. These include organisations like The Bicycle Project who repair bicycles and distribute them to those in need.

Can a bicycle be recycled?

Early bikes An estimated 15 million bikes are discarded each year, and sadly, many of these still end up in landfills. If your bicycle is truly beyond repair, and you can’t find anyone who can repurpose the various parts, then your local recycling facility can help.

What are the problems with recycling bicycles?

Early bikes The first issue is knowing which metal your bike is made of. The simplest test is to pop a magnet on the frame – if the magnet sticks, it’s steel. If it doesn’t, it’s likely to be aluminium, carbon or titanium. A quick google of the manufacturer and model should help identify the exact material of the frame.

As well as this, you need to think about all the different parts that make up the bike, such as the pedals, tyres and seats. These can often be made of various materials, so knowing what’s is important to allow for proper recycling. Again, a simple search of the manufacturer and model should give you all you need to know.

Facts about recycling bicycles

The most common type of bike frame is steel – it’s sturdy, strong, and reasonably lightweight. It’s also eco-friendly as 100% of steel can be recycled. It’s used for food cans, all sorts of building components and thousands of products all over the world. Steel can be melted down and reused time and time again. Your local recycling centre will be able to recycle your steel bike frame and component parts.

If your bike is made from another metal, like titanium or aluminium, you should also be able to find somewhere that will take them for recycling, such as a local scrap metal dealer, or your local recycling centre.

Carbon fibre bikes

Sir Joseph Wilson Swan first created carbon fibre in 1860 to use in an early incandescent light bulb. In 1879, Thomas Edison used cellulose-based carbon fibre filaments in some of his first electric bulbs. Modern carbon fibre production can be traced back to 1963, British scientists W. Watt, L. N. Phillips and W. Johnson of the UK Ministry of Defence patented a new process that yielded something close to the strong, light material we see today.

Whilst carbon fibre bikes are strong, light, and much loved by cyclists worldwide, when it comes to recycling, Carbon fibre bicycles present a problem. This popular material will not biodegrade, and unless reused, a discarded carbon fibre frame will simply sit in a landfill. The good news is that this type of bike is often much sought after, so you should be able to find someone who will take it off you hands.

Reuse rather than recycle

The best thing to do with a bike you no longer want is to offer it to be reused – even if you can’t repair it, someone else might be able to. Your local council website will have a list of charity shops in your area, who may take your old bike, and charities like Halfords’ Bikes to Africa scheme can get your unwanted wheels to those who really need them.

Who invented the bicycle?

Early bikes Karl von Drais is credited with inventing the bicycle in 1817. This early model was very different to what we’re used to today, with a wooden frame, no pedals and a distinctly bumpy ride. It was only after the 1888 invention of the pneumatic tyre that these early bicycles lost their nickname of “the boneshaker”.

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