Keeping bikes out of landfill

Revolve Recycling want to show that recycling and rehoming old bikes makes sense

Keeping bikes out of landfill

Environmentalism has been the constant thread in Guido Verbist’s life.

The Revolve Recyling guru has done everything from developing tiny house programs to creating risk protocols for Greenpeace workers in the Amazon and Iraq.

Guido Verbist wants to show that keeping old bikes out of landfill can be financially, as well as environmentally, sustainable. Photo: Chris Southwood / City of Sydney

Now he’s turning his attention to bikes – and where they go when we don’t want them anymore.

The pandemic has brought a huge increase in bike riding. But despite the upswing in demand, tens of thousands of bikes that could be rehomed or recycled still end up in landfill every year.

“Around 1.7 million bikes were sold in Australia in 2020, up from 1 million in 2019,” says Verbist.

Thousands of old bikes end up in landfill each year, despite huge growth in the second hand bike market. Photo: Chris Southwood / City of Sydney

“We know that in the Sydney metropolitan area, right now, there are more than 10,000 bikes sitting in basements that people do not need any more, which could be given a new life immediately. If you take that out to the next 12 months, there are more than 150,000.

“If no one takes action, many, even most, of these will end up in landfill.”

Recycling bikes can make financial sense

Rehoming bikes is nothing new, but most operations rely on volunteer labour or donations. Verbist wants to show that diverting old bikes from landfill can be financially self-sufficient and economically sustainable. The key lies in unlocking the value of the materials used in the bikes, not just refurbishing the bikes for resale.

Revolve Recycling restore and sell around 20% of the bikes they collect. Photo: Chris Southwood / City of Sydney

“Even if a bike can’t be re-homed immediately, there is value in the steel, the aluminium, the rubber – nearly all of the bike can be recycled,” says Verbist.

“We don’t say no to any bike, we take them all.” Bikes which are too far gone to be refurbished are stripped down and the materials sold.

“Once we have the bikes, we triage them with our bike mechanics. Roughly 20% of the bikes that are donated, we consider good enough to redeploy, to be sold.” Some bikes might have useful parts removed. These are used to repair other bikes for sale.

Just about every part of a bike can be recycled - steel, rubber, aluminum, plastic. Photo: Chris Southwood / City of Sydney

With such an increase in bike riding, the second-hand market is strong. “This has also been backed by an increase in bike lanes and bike infrastructure, so more people are feeling confident to ride” says Verbist.

“We don’t try to get the maximum amount of money for each bike. It’s more important to move the bikes on than to sit on one and get every single dollar out of it.”

Verbist hopes Revolve Recycling's operations can ultimately provide employment opportunities too. Photo: Chris Southwood / City of Sydney

Scaling up is next

Scaling up the operation is the next step. “We want to get to 6,000 bikes a year,” says Verbist.

This increase in scale brings employment opportunities.

“Disassembling the bikes for recycling is not necessarily highly-skilled work, and we want to explore what employment opportunities might be possible, particularly for people with disability."

Recycle your old bike

Revolve Recycling picks up bikes one day a week across the Sydney metropolitan area. If you have an old bike which could be recycled or possibly rehomed, get in touch.

If your shed or basement is home to a few rusty bikes, Revolve will happily take them. Photo: Chris Southwood / City of Sydney

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