Today’s Solutions: March 21, 2023

The recent surge in e-bike adoption is good news for the environment. In fact, it is estimated that Americans will buy over 12 million electric bikes this decade. However, there is still a sustainability concern when it comes to this green method of transportation: What do we do with all those lithium-ion batteries when they reach the end of their lives?

E-bike battery recycling solution

While battery recycling programs are common in Europe, the infrastructure is still lacking in the US. Fortunately, that is expected to change next year thanks to a new bicycle recycling program. Led by bicycle trade association PeopleForBikes and battery recycling nonprofit Call2Recycle, the initiative is reportedly the first for uniting a transportation sector under a single battery recycling solution.

More e-bike, less pollution

According to a study conducted in Portland, increasing e-bike adoption in the city has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions from cars by 12 percent. But growing adoption could pose other sustainability concerns. For example, e-bike batteries usually last for about three to seven years, after which they’re often treated as hazardous waste, making them difficult to dispose of. Another issue relates to the production of batteries, which requires the extraction of rare metals and thus poses other environmental and labor concerns.

The new e-bike recycling program in the US will target both of these issues by looking at the whole lifecycle of the bicycles and their batteries. “It’s fantastic to be able to get an e-bike on the road and [reduce emissions], but if you’re not paying attention to what happens to the batteries at end of life, basically you’re going to end up with piles and piles of batteries,” said Leo Raudys, CEO at Call2Recycle.

Pedaling towards circularity

Currently, recycling facilities can recycle 75 to 80 percent of materials from an e-bike battery, and that number is expected to get to 95 percent over the next decade. “Every ounce of material that we don’t have to mine from the Earth is much better for the planet,” said Raudys. “We’re truly moving toward a circular approach.”

How will the battery recycling program work?

As part of the new initiative, the campaigners aim to work with about 3,000 e-bike retailers across the country, training them on how to safely collect and ship the batteries for recycling. PeopleForBikes and Calls2Recycle will also run campaigns to inform e-bike owners on how to know when the battery is at the end of its life, and where they can remove and recycle it.

“The idea is to make the recycling of the battery as easy as buying the bike in the first place, Raudys said. “You use the locators, drop it off, and you’re done.”

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