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Turning carpet into bikes

A New Zealand company has developed a way to recycle worn-out carpets into children’s bicycles.

A bike may not be the obvious product you’d think of if someone asked you what to do with worn-out carpet, but think again.

It may have fallen out of fashion in recent times, but carpet remains a wonderful way to warm a home. The catch, of course, is that it wears out. Thanks to its bulky nature and combination of different materials, which makes recycling tricky, it adds huge volumes to landfills. Carpet America Recovery Effort (Care) estimates that 5bn tons of carpet – almost 1 ton per person on the globe – ends up in landfill each year. Imagine if it could be put to better use.

Now it can. For the past several months, carpets have found a highly unconventional second life as bikes. Jenny McIver and her husband Rich – New Zealanders who have recently returned home after several years in New York City – run Wishbone Design, a product design company. Together they have developed a technology that allows them to turn carpets into rigid tubular shapes and so form children’s bikes. Not just that: the Wishbone Bike Recycled Edition can be expanded as the child grows, saving additional space in landfill.

“The nylon carpet fibers are shaved from the backing,” explains McIver. “Then both the nylon fiber and polypropylene backing are separately recycled via a proprietary process, which shreds, cleans and heats the raw material into liquid form. We add glass fiber for strength and rigidity.”

The result is engineered resin pellets that can be injection-moulded into strong organic forms. “But we don’t stop there,” says McIver. “This is the first bicycle ever to be made using gas-assisted injection moulding, which allows us to create complex, single-piece tubular forms that achieve very high strength and rigidity.”

The couple spent almost three years developing the technology and design, introducing the mass-produced bike last year – the world’s first bike made entirely from post-consumer recycled material. In concrete terms, that means nylon from used carpet – two kilos of it per bike. Customers particularly love the design aesthetic and the adjustable frame, says McIver, which fits children from 12 months to six years.

The Wishbone Bike Recycled Edition may be the most glamorous end for a worn-out floor covering, but it is not the only way to recycle a carpet. Particularly in the US, carpet recycling is advancing quickly. Thanks to Care, a partnership between the government and private companies, 30% of used carpet now returns to the market as carpet fiber, backings, new carpet, cushions and engineered resins, a common component in durable goods. Care reports that in 2012, the latest year surveyed, 1.6m tons of carpet was diverted from American landfills and recycled, the highest figure ever.

For her part, Jenny McIver believes there are plenty of second carpet lives waiting to be discovered. This year Wishbone is launching a new model of the Recycled Edition Wishbone Bike using both recycled nylon and polypropylene – carpet yarn. “We’re also designing a larger recycled bike,” she says. “Cycling is a lifestyle choice for the future. It’s a real joy creating truly innovative designs for such a passionate and growing community.”

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