Specialized launch carbon recycling and sustainability initiative

Morgan Hill company hope to inspire others to do the same

Specialized have joined the growing number of bike industry companies placing an emphasis on environmental sustainability. They've begun scrutinising the carbon footprint of their products, and are calling for the formation of a coalition to lead the recycling of carbon fiber.

“We're committed to becoming the leaders of sustainable practices in the cycling industry,” said Specialized president and founder Mike Sinyard via press-release. “As cyclists, we're passionate about our time outdoors, and by nature of the sport, are tied to the health of the planet. We want to ensure this is reflected in how we manufacture bicycles, and ultimately, that the cycling industry becomes the model other industries look to on sustainability practices.”

Specialized are the first major bike business to join the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Eco-Index, a comprehensive system for evaluating and improving the environmental footprint of products during the design stage. “We're calling for other members of the cycling industry to join us, and support the OIA in its effort to create an equipment module for the Eco-Index, designed to address the environmental footprint of the products sold in our industry,” said Eric Edgecumbe, the company's chief product officer.

To spearhead and co-ordinate these efforts, Specialized have hired Bryant Bainbridge as their full-time sustainability strategist. A Specialized R&D employee in the ‘80s, Bainbridge returned to the company in December from Nike, where he co-authored Nike’s Considered Index — which is recognized as one of the most comprehensive systems for predicting the environmental footprint of products during the design phase.

“Recycling carbon fiber is, for the most part, a business that hardly exists,” Bainbridge told BikeRadar. “There are a handful of facilities on the planet that are beginning to do this work and those efforts are really in their infancy and focused around companies like Boeing. But given how much carbon our industry produces and how long carbon fiber takes to break down, we have a responsibility to underwrite these efforts in our industry.”

"The cycling industry uses massive amounts of the material," said Edgecumbe. "However, established methods of take-back and reprocessing have yet to be created. We all benefit from pulling together on critical issues like this one. Therefore, we're requesting the formation of a cycling industry coalition to lead the recycling of carbon fiber."

The typical contemporary process for recycling carbon fiber is to ‘down cycle’ the material, which takes leftover fibers, which are too short to be used in the manufacture of large components, and employs them elsewhere; so the scraps cut away from frame plies may be used in shoe soles or to make carbon cable bosses and other small parts. In the aerospace industry, Boeing recycle carbon scraps from airplane wings into armrests for seats, according to Bainbridge.

Specialized are reaching out to create an industry-wide coalition, which will target US and European brands which have shown an interest in making this effort a reality. “There's a lot of work for us to do as an industry to establish responsible means of dealing with our waste, both in manufacturing and at end of life,” Bainbridge told BikeRadar. “I applaud Trek for beginning work in this area.

"Knowing that issues like this are bigger than any single brand, we want to add weight to that effort by calling for an industry coalition to explore how we establish programs for take-back and recycling as a group. The most successful work in sustainability is being done by industry coalitions, such as the OIA or Sustainable Apparel Coalition, where the combined weight of the members can drive meaningful change.”

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