The bike may be one of the greenest, most efficient forms of transport out there but creating one from scratch still requires a considerable amount of energy.
However, unlike a car a good bike may have decades of life ahead of it, only needing a periodic change of a few wearable items that are inexpensive and often easy to replace.
The Linear Economy
Society today is one that makes goods designed to fail, selling them cheaply to us on the understanding that we’re probably going to be buying the next one, and the next one, and the next one.
We see it with our phones, our cars and even our home appliances. Products that have an annoying habit of failing just after the warranty has expired. It’s an incredibly wasteful practice, but thanks to the way many multi-national corporations are funded –by greedy shareholders who will not tolerate a dip in sales, these corporations need to keep churning out newer models with new features in the hope that they can tempt you to upgrade.
If they can’t tempt you, they will have a good go at forcing you by withholding new features in software updates, or making software updates that play havoc with the performance. For each upgrade huge quantities of finite resources are mined out of the ground; vast amounts of energy wasted on running the factories and making these products. Anyone who owns a smartphone or uses a computer will have experienced this planned obsolescence first hand. Anyone who remembers trying to install Windows Vista onto their PC; or anyone who installs new firmware onto their phone to find that yours didn’t make the cut when features were being handed out.
So, our old product is discarded, hopefully to be recycled but a lot of it still goes to landfill. Many of the precious resources we worked so hard to excavate now go to waste. The copper, the silicon and other precious materials sat among the myriad of plastics that will never, ever decompose.
However, there is another way. What if the things we made were not destined for landfill after a single use. What if they could be repurposed or recycled in their entirety, ready to live a life anew and creating no new waste.
We call this the circular economy.
The Circular Economy
A circular economy is one that effectively eliminates waste by designing products with their entire life cycle in mind. Let’s take tires as an example. Billions of tires reach the end of their useful life every year, but what happens to them then? Sometimes they are recycled, but often they go to landfill or are burned for energy. However, in a circular economy tire companies would remain responsible for the raw materials throughout a tire’s life by taking them back, breaking them down into their constituent parts and turning them back into new tires. This is something that Michelin is doing.
For example, trucking companies and airlines can choose to be billed based on the number of kilometres traveled, the number of tonnes transported, or the number of landings carried out using tyres supplied and maintained by Michelin. As regards the establishment of a circular model, Michelin believes that all the correct incentives have to be in place: the model has to make both economic and environmental sense.
There are other examples too. We all bemoan the cost of ink cartridges for printers often remarking that it is often cheaper to just buy a new printer, but this is also incredibly wasteful. Companies like HP now offer their “Instant Ink” scheme. At the end of the day, printer cartridges are a means to an end. They hold the ink to allow us to print the documents we spend so much time creating. With HP’s scheme you effectively lease some really big cartridges and just pay for the pages that you print. The printer tells HP when it is running out of ink so they dispatch some more cartridges and take back the old ones.
Ultimately we are talking about moving away from a system of paying to own, to one where we pay for access. Many of us own a lot of things that might have served a purpose at some stage, but have most likely either fallen out of favour, or were not needed as often as we thought. We own cars despite them spending 90% of their life parked, rapidly losing value and costing us money. Some of us (ahem, me!) have purchased movies like Back To the Future and Ghostbusters on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray and now just stream it when the mood takes us. It is the content that interests us, not the format it is on. The same principle applies to most forms of media including books, music and TV programmes, which can all be rented, streamed or borrowed from libraries.
Here’s how it works: rather than a bike manufacturer absolving all responsibility of their product by selling it to you, bike companies would indefinitely own all of the resources used to construct their products.
We also own bikes that, if the infrastructure was there, we would rent instead. We now have a thriving bike hire scheme in Cardiff, but we can’t yet rent more specialised bikes, like road or mountain bikes, but hopefully someone will come along and fill that gap in the market too.
Making do and mending…
For products that are already out there, there’s a lot to be said for things that have been built to last –things that have a hand-built feel but with a focus on quality, or are bestowed with a massive warranty. We’re big fans of Restrap, mostly because their products are incredibly well made, but they’re not alone. Companies like Crumpler offer a 30-year warranty on their products, confident that their bags should stand the test of time.
There are also a great many things that can be re-purposed, or up-cycled. Inner tubes, tires, chains, old cassettes etc can be turned into wallets, belts and even coasters with a bit of ingenuity.
The great thing for us is that bicycles, particularly ones made of steel are already built to last. A good steel frame, aside from never going out of style, will keep going for decades. Best of all, people like our friends Drew and Steffan are picking up old steel frames and giving them a new start.
Here in Cardiff we have a number of refurbishers who will take something that could already have done thousands of miles, give it a good service and some new paint and then sell it to you for less than you would have spent on something that has just come off the production line. The likes of Cardiff Cycle Workshop and Punk Bikes are great places to source a pre-loved bike.
There is no denying that getting a new bike is a great feeling, but there is nothing to say that your new bike can’t be someone’s cast-off.