In bike-friendly Portland, resident Jason Jepsen is trying to set up a recycling program for old bike helmets – an important safety accessory that has been traditionally difficult to dismantle and turn into new products.
According to the blog Bike Portland, Jepsen plans to place helmet collection bins at bike shops and says several major stores have already expressed interest. When the bins are full, the shops will arrange for a pick-up or drop-off to a storage facility, where volunteers will meet once or twice a year for the labor-intensive process of disassembling the helmets.
Then the separated material streams will be sent to appropriate recycling facilities: The helmet’s plastic shells are shipped overseas to be melted down into oil, while the foam is made into other foam products and dispatched to China. The fabric and plastic buckles will most likely end up at the city’s local reuse centers.
But Jepsen has concerns about the sustainability of the bike helmet recycling process: shipping the waste materials abroad and making new products that can’t be recycled again.
He tells Bike Portland that his larger aim is to work with helmet manufacturers to design a helmet that is easier to take apart and recycle into new sustainable products.
“This needs to go upstream at some point,” he says. “[Helmets are] made in a backwards way. You can make a better, more recyclable helmet without sacrificing anything.”