Bike-Share Companies Accused of Creating e-Waste Mountains

Bike-Share Companies Accused of Creating e-Waste Mountains

Bike-sharing is a growing trend across the world, encouraging people in cities to ditch cars and public transport in favour of cycling – a convenient, money-saving and emission-slashing way to get around. But the apparently eco-friendly companies could be producing a lot more waste than users realise – and one charity is now calling for proper reuse and recycling policies to be put in place.

After the Santander Cycles scheme took off in London in 2010 (formerly Barclays Cycle Hire, but perhaps better known as ‘Boris bikes’ after the mayor who championed them), the bike hire market has been growing exponentially in the UK, with companies like Ofo, Mobike, Hourbike and YoBike spreading into major cities across the country.

The premise is simple: download an app to your smartphone, use it to find a bike on a map, unlock the bike for a small fee, and then leave the bike in a designated dock or location once you’re finished. The bike will then be locked again until another user comes along. Some apps offer membership rates and for others the cost of a single ride can be as low as £1.

Most of the UK schemes are for standard manual bikes, but elsewhere there are companies offering electric bikes (such as JUMP in the United States, which is set to make the move into Europe with a branch in Berlin) and even scooters: billion-dollar US startups Bird, Spin and Lime rent out electric scooters by the minute.

However, even the standard bikes constitute e-waste once they reach the end-of-life stage, given that they are fitted with GPS software that links them up to a wider city network. Jim Puckett, Director of the international waste trade charity Basel Action Network (BAN), explained: “These bikes when scrapped are actually a form of electronic waste... Even the non-motorized bikes contain hazardous lithium-ion batteries and toxic circuit boards.”

Worldwide, there are apparently more than 10 million Ofo bikes in operation, while Mobike has a presence in more than 200 cities. News broke back in 2017, with shocking pictures in the Guardian, that huge mountains of these bikes were being dumped in so-called ‘bicycle graveyards’ in China – the country where the bike-sharing technology first took off and from where most of the big UK companies, including Mobike and Ofo, originate. Whether because they are damaged beyond repair, or because the company operating them went bust (as was the case with China’s Bluegogo), these bikes are now potentially creating a huge amount of waste.