Recycling Challenge: Bike Blow-outs

by Samantha Wittchen

The Challenge: Spring is coming to Philadelphia, and the potholes are in full bloom. You hop on your bike for the first time since the Snowpocalypse hit and take one of those craters at full speed. Suddenly, you have a defunct bike tube or tire on your hands. Improperly handled stockpiles of tires can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes, harbors for vermin and targets for toxic fires. The rubber from tires is also suitable for recycling into other useful products. Bicycle tubes are a little trickier—they’re usually made from vulcanized rubber, which is cost-prohibitive to recycle on a large scale.

The Solution: Since ground rubber from tires can be used in applications ranging from athletic field turf to asphalt to flooring, your best bet is to take your tire to someone who will recycle it. According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association’s 2007 Report, the demand for ground rubber increased 43 percent from 2005 to 2007. Of the half-dozen bicycle shops I contacted in Philadelphia, none of them accept used tires or tubes for recycling. Luckily, Pep Boys, which accepts automotive tires, also accepts bicycle tires. 

As for tubes, recycling options in Philadelphia seem to be nonexistent, but Boulder-based Ecologic Designs (ecologicdesigns.com) partners with companies and communities to reclaim bike tubes and make them into new products. Of course, the most environmentally-friendly option for dealing with your blown-out tube is to patch and reuse it. It’s cheaper, less wasteful and easy to do.

The Eco-Aware Consumer: The options are scarce, and determining the recycled content (if any) of a bicycle tire can be difficult. However, Greentyre makes a responsibly-manufactured, puncture-proof polyurethane tire. As for tubes, unless you go with a latex rubber tube—they’re made from a renewable resource, but are generally more expensive and need to be inflated more frequently—you’re limited to purchasing a new vulcanized rubber tube.