A staggering 44,000 tonnes of bicycle tires and inner tubes end up in landfill each year, discarded by cyclists all over the world.
But some organizations are taking steps to mitigate this, recycling bicycle tubes and tires or upcycling them into gifts and accessories. You can also recycle them yourself, at home.
In this month’s edition of our RETHINK series, we feature four companies and non-profits that reprocess expired bicycle parts. We also give you tips and tricks to recycle your own used bicycle tyres and inner tubes.
Established in 2018, Velorim manages the collection and recycling of inner tubes and tires within the UK. They have set up collection centres around the country where cyclists can take their old tires/tubes and, for a small contribution, have them disposed of ecologically.
The process begins with shredding and granulating the tires and tubes, to separate them into: rubber, steel and fibre. These materials are then used for a range of things, from safety flooring to insulation.
The rubber in particular is recycled into a new trademarked polymer called Velo-Butylene™, and into Velo-SBR™, both of which can be used to manufacture new products.
The idea behind Velorim is to cut off the disposal process for the tires and tubes, preventing them from being dumped in landfill locally, exported to landfill overseas, or used for carbon-omitting processes - for example, their use in cement manufacturing.
Cycle of Good
While Velorim reprocesses bicycle tubes and tires, Cycle of Good upcycles them into new lifestyle products via a supply chain that benefits communities in the developing world.
Credit: Cycle of Good
The organisation collects discarded inner tubes and other materials, ships them to Malawi alongside donated bicycles, and passes them on to Malawian tailors who craft them into useful and beautiful items for everyday use, such as belts, wallets and glasses cases.
Any cut-offs from inner-tubes are made into furniture for local schools, and all the products are shipped in plastic-free packaging in a shared container space, to minimise their carbon footprint.
Cycle of Good is currently accepting donations from businesses in the cycling sector via their website.
Green Guru Gear
Operating out of Colorado since 2005, this company upcycles old outdoor gear, bike tubes, and billboard materials into new adventure gear.
They obtain their materials mainly from recycling stations locally in Colorado. They are also sent donations, and local bike and outdoor shops offer incentives for customers to donate old gear before they purchase new products.
Credit: Green Guru Gear
They then bring these goods to the Green Guru warehouse, where they are processed locally and sewn into new products for outdoor exploration, travel, cycling and more.
You can ship your used tubes and other used materials to Green Guru Gear in Boulder, Colorado.
Alchemy Goods is another upcycling company that builds new things, like bags and wallets, from old inner tubes, seatbelts and advertising banners donated from all over the United States.
Credit: Alchemy Goods
Recycle them yourself
There is also the option of recycling your own discarded bicycle parts at home, by re-using them for something new. Here are a few ideas for how to upcycle your bicycle tires and tubes.
Use old tubes for tie-downs or straps
This is the simplest way to reuse an old bicycle inner tube. Make a clean cut to the left and right of the stem to make one long tube, and use the strip as you would a bungee cord. Tie down supplies for travel, secure awnings, strap a milkcrate to the back of a bicycle, etc.
Use bicycle tires for swings and other play structures
Use a bicycle tire, or several strapped together, to make a child’s swing in your backyard. Simply fasten the tube or tubes to a strong tree branch with a rope. The only thing is to be careful with using particularly worn tires - better to avoid these as they run the risk of breaking.
Weave a doormat or upholster a chair
If you’re feeling creative, why not store up your discarded inner tubes and weave them into a new seat for your chair, a doormat, or any other woven product you fancy making. If you don’t have enough tubes you could go to your local bicycle shop and ask them if they have any that have been discarded.
Start by cutting out the stem on the bicycle tube to make one strap. Next, choose the width of the strap you want to use - cut the bicycle tube down into long strips if you want something thinner or keep it whole for something more durable and thick. Then start weaving! If you’re making new upholstery for your chair, you may want to secure each strap to the chair with a furniture tack, bought from a hardware store.
Make a belt or a wallet
Again, for the more creative people out there, try making your old bicycle tubes into new belts or wallets. You’ll need a sewing machine, thread and a bit of inspiration - check out these Etsy belts and wallets for some interesting designs, and here is a step-by-step guide to making a wallet with a bike inner tube.
Patch your new tubes
Finally, why not save up any old bicycle tubes and cut them up to patch new ones? First, cut out the patch you want to use, sand both the patch and your tube thoroughly and then clean both surfaces with an alcohol wipe. Then coat both surfaces with contact cement and wait a few minutes before putting them together.