In diesem Beitrag

Biking is not only a great way to stay fit, but it’s also an environmentally friendly option for your daily commute. But what happens if parts of the bike break or need to be replaced? Many bicycle parts, from chains to tires, can be recycled or properly disposed of to minimize environmental impact. Over the last few years I have found some methods and stumbled across offers on how to dispose of almost all components and substances well.

In this article you can read how to find the best recycling for tires, inner tubes, problematic materials such as disc brake fluid and old cycling jerseys.

Classification of recyclables on the bike

Roughly, there are the following parts and components on the bike, each of which can be recycled differently. After all, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye:

  • Bicycle chain: oil and metal
  • Brake cables: Metal, Composites
  • Disc brake fluid: mineral oil, dot fluid
  • Bicycle cleaners and oils/greases: Not always as biodegradable as promised.
  • Bicycle tire and inner tube: butyl and rubber, as well as special materials or TPU (thermoplastic).
  • Latex: tubeless tire sealant.
  • Components: saddle, brake handles, etc.
  • Clothes: Often still in demand as clothing donation.

Let’s go through these points in detail.

Bicycle chain and chain oil

PTFE is a problematic substance – Mind blowing to advert it, or should that be a warning?

Bicycle chains can be made of steel or a mixture of steel and titanium. Both materials are recyclable. The chain should be cleaned of dirt and oil and then taken to a recycling center that accepts metals.

For chain oil, make sure that it is hopefully biodegradable. As a rule, it is not “disposed of” in any other way, but is simply put to its normal use and consumed.

A detailed test to biodegradable chain oils was exercide in the german magazine TOUR 06-2023: “Bio auf der Kette?” (bio chain lube?) – For any one interested, here is the same link as to the readers of the german version of this article.

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Brake cables, sleeves and components on the bike

Brake cables: These are usually made of steel and can therefore be disposed of in metal recycling. Make sure they are free of plastic wrappings and clean before you drop them off.

Components: Many bicycle components, such as pedals, handlebars and seat posts, are made of metal and can be disposed of in metal recycling. Other parts, such as saddles or grips, may be made of plastic or rubber and should be recycled accordingly.

Disc brake fluid

The best-known component manufacturers Shimano and SRAM each use different substances in hydraulic brake lines. For Shimano it is mineral oil and for SRAM DOT, a brake fluid like you find in cars. Other, rather smaller, component manufacturers stick to these two types. Most of the time, you can then find one or the other of both variants at these manufacturers, and works with the same product as the big ones.

I collect old brake fluid and take it to the local recycling center (“Werstoffhof” in germany) as a problem material, this costs nothing, but may vary from state to state.

Brake fluid is a hazardous waste and should never be poured down the drain or toilet. The best way to dispose of brake fluid is to collect it in a tight container and take it to a recycling center or hazardous waste collection site.

Bike cleaner

Here it applies similarly to the chain grease or oil. It is a substance that is probably not disposed of but used normally.

The packaging of bicycle cleaners can normally be disposed of in plastic recycling. However, the content should be used completely beforehand. If that’s not possible, contact a recycling center or hazardous waste collection site to learn how to dispose of the cleaner.

Recycle butyl and TPU bicycle inner tube

These materials are not biodegradable, but they can be recycled. Some bicycle stores and manufacturers offer a recycling program for bicycle inner tubes. If that’s not possible, you can also use the hoses for DIY projects or take them to a recycling center that accepts plastics.

Actually, I developed a love for the black rubber material. Which is why I’ve already made quite a few things out of the stuff. I always have a box full of cut inner tubes, they make great underlays or gaskets, eg. on a clamp for bicycle lights or on a luggage rack. It can be wrapped around a chain stay as a chain guard. I even made a pinboard out of it.

Today, however, hoses are not only made of butyl. Manufacturers like Schwalbe invent their very own creations: Aerothane tube. This new type is also known as TPU inner tube. You can read a lot more details about them in both linked posts.

Bike donation – clothes and old parts

I already reported about the project “Radspende”: Bike donation – Give old parts new life

Here you have the opportunity to pass on the worn out but still functional parts. They go to other countries and find much joy. Especially for clothes but also only slightly used parts a very good option and a good reuse.

Bicycle Tires

Bicycle tires can be recycled in several ways. Some recycling centers accept them and use the rubber to make new products. There are also special collection points for used tires. Another option is to use the tires for DIY projects, such as making shoe soles, garden hoses or even belts.

Tubeless sealant – latex

Another problem substance comes with modern wheels:“latex milk” (as we call it in german; but if I remember correctly, the correct term would be “sealant” rather – please write me in the comments what is the common term for you).

Latex based sealants from tubeless tires cannot be disposed of through the normal household waste or recycling system, as it is a special chemical waste. The liquid in tubeless tires seals holes and prevents air from escaping. If you need to dispose of sealant, there are several options:

Allow to dry out: Let the sealant dry out completely by pouring it into a shallow container and letting it air dry. Once dried, the solid latex can be disposed of as normal waste. Please note that this may vary depending on local regulations. Most of the time, you can also just use a paper towel to soak up the wet milk when you change a tire. After that, it passes as normal household waste.

Special disposal sites: Some recycling centers or hazardous waste collection sites accept liquid waste such as latex sealant. Check with your local recycling center or municipal government for specific disposal options in your area.

Bike stores: some bike stores offer disposal services for bike waste, including sealants. Check with your local bike store to see if they offer this service.

It is important not to empty sealant into the sewage system or the nature as it is harmful to the environment. Always check local regulations and guidelines for chemical waste disposal to make sure you are taking the right steps.

Even “organic” tubeless sealant is not without problems. Since although there other substances and partly natural materials are used. However, latex is still involved and therefore not harmless or does not belong in nature because it is not degradable.

Recycling Centers and Hazardous Waste Collection Site

It is important to note that recycling opportunities may vary by location. Here in Germany we always have access in city to such recycling facilities or waste collection sites. Therefore, it is advisable to check with local recycling centers or bike stores to see what options are available. With a little effort, we can help protect the environment and extend the life of our bike parts and accessories.