I just saw this over on bicycleretailer.com and thought it was definitely worth sharing. It’s not news that carbon fibre bikes don’t really decompose and all that epoxy and resin isn’t exactly good for the environment, so with the exponential rise of carbon frames on the market something really has do be done about both the manufacturing bi-product and the faulty and used frames that will start showing up in landfills soon. Trek already has a recycling program for the manufacturing processes (although they aren’t sharing it) but the news in today is that Specialized’s new program will not only work for big S bikes but also for any brand, and the best bit is that it will be free. Anyway read it all below. It might make you feel better about ordering that new S Works or Blur LT.

“Specialized said this week that it would extend its carbon fiber recycling program to dealers and consumers early next year.

Specialized will work with bike shops to collect damaged carbon bike frames from any brand and transport them to Materials Innovation Technologies, a South Carolina composites recycling facility already used by Specialized to recycle warranty frames or other carbon fiber parts that come back to headquarters.

Specialized will start the program with outreach to its own dealer network, opening it up to any retailer who wants to participate. Logistics are still being ironed out, but it’s designed to be cost and hassle free.

“The vision is to make it as easy as possible for both consumers and dealers to take back carbon and recycle it,” said Specialized’s Ben Delaney.

Specialized will contact its dealers in January about the specifics of how to handle carbon fiber returns and the start date for the take back program. The company will report back to the industry at next year’s Eurobike and Interbike tradeshows on the number of frames recycled, the amount of carbon fiber recovered and lessons learned.

“At that time we will make a formal call for an industry coalition to recycle carbon fibre,” said Bryant Bainbridge, sustainability specialist for Specialized. “This is a shared industry program and one we all need to address.”

Specialized estimates that thousands of carbon fibre bicycles end up in landfills every years. A notoriously difficult material to recycle, many in the industry, Trek in particular, have been working for years on how to give a second life to carbon fiber scraps from the production process. Led by the aerospace industry, progress is being made.

The process of recycling carbon fibre consists of chopping the frame into smaller sections, then burning off the epoxy that holds the fibers together in an oxygen-free environment. This results in shorter fibers with the same properties as the original material that can be used in a variety of ways, Bainbridge said.

“You’re probably not going to make a bike from recycled carbon, but you can make a range of products with the shorter fibers. For example, Boeing recycles its stabilizer fins into armrests,” he said. “Besides keeping these frames out of the landfill, you’re recovering carbon with significantly less energy than it took to make virgin material.”

The goal is to extend the recycling program to the European Union as well. “


0 Responses

  1. Carbon composites are about as difficult as it gets when it comes to recycling, particularly as the bulk of those used for bikes use thermosetting epoxy (polymer that doesn’t soften with heat but just burns, unlike a thermoplastic that can be softened and remoulded). It’s great that they are working on this though – as the article mentions – it is really the aerospace industry who HAVE to get this solved as they use massive amounts of carbon composite. Specialized and Trek and the bike industry are doing some smart coat-tailing here.
    But lets not get carried away. Carbon composite is environmentally disasterous in the grand scale of materials. It uses enormous quantity of energy to produce both carbon fibres and the epoxy resin. It uses enormous amounts of energy to reclaim the fibres, and then they are only being downcycled, not truly recycled (making armrests from structural parts isn’t recycling – it is using the material as a far lower grade filler). But it is a start, and good that they are (hopefully) taking this seriously.

    Now maybe we can address the real problem – manufacturers/brands who work to an annual product cycle and release ‘new’ and ‘improved’ bikes every year even though the advances are tiny or non-existent and there is nothing at all wrong with the current model. Consumers buy new and discard the old for what? because they are told that new = better and they simply must have it to remain brilliant riders. But then that goes way beyond the bike industry.

    Educated rant over 🙂

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