Looking at my almost new, shiny, beautiful, technologically up-to-date carbon fiber bicycle, I can’t quite imagine driving to a landfill and tossing it onto a pile of old mattresses, plastic bags, and water bottles. Especially since I look at my bike and think of all the CO2 I’m saving the atmosphere. But it’s too-often true that these carbon works of art end up irreparably cracked or smashed and lying heaped with other garbage. And they stay there–because carbon fiber isn’t quite biodegradable. What many cyclists and triathletes don’t know could save these bikes from adding to our growing trash piles.
Over the last two years or so, several bicycle manufacturers have pushed forward into carbon recycling programs that will break down and repurpose these bikes for various other uses. Taking a cue from the aerospace industry, big name bike makers like Trek and Specialized will accept your old frame for the recycling program. Don’t have a Madone or Roubaix? No worries! They’ll accept bikes made by other companies–as long as that company doesn’t have its own program already in place.
Because carbon bikes have plenty of layers that keep them shiny and fast, they need to go through a bit of a process to get them ready for recycling. The frame is first cut into short sections, which allows the recyclers to use an oxygen-free environment to remove the epoxy that originally kept the fibers together. While these short sections can’t be used to create new bike frames, they can be used for other products like bottle cages and all the little gear we love that helps cut weight. These recycled sections use a great deal less energy to create than the original material, and can be put to a variety of uses within and without the cycling industry.
So you’ve got an old Specialized in the garage that’s twisted and mangled–where do you go? Head back to your local bike shop that sells Specialized and ask if they participate in the recycling program. They should take the old frame from you (make sure you keep all your components!) at no cost to you, and send it off for a new life holding someone’s water bottles or pumping air into another cyclist’s tires. Specialized (or Trek or Giant) will also take frames from other manufacturers–just check with your local shop to get more details on the program.
Spread the word, and let’s keep those old frames out of the trash heaps and on the road in some form or another!
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