Recycling Bikes in London

This report presents the findings of a Transport for London (TfL) commissioned study investigating the feasibility of establishing a central bicycle recycling initiative for London. This commission is thought to be the first of its kind to have been undertaken in the UK and it was clear from the outset that limited publicly available information existed on bicycle recycling schemes. Therefore, this study utilised a range of research methods to gather appropriate background information, data and experiences from other similar schemes that operate in the UK, and where appropriate from overseas. Whilst desk based literature searches and correspondent questionnaire surveys of London boroughs were undertaken, the report’s main findings were derived from a comprehensive set of case studies developed from face-to-face and telephone interviews. The study’s outputs represent a unique collation of relevant information that could assist TfL make appropriate decisions on whether the establishment of a London specific bicycle recycling scheme would be a worthwhile undertaking.

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An important conclusion of the study identified that a London scheme could be established by utilising success criteria of schemes operating in other cities. Combined with London’s ample supply base of disused bicycles and sufficient local demand, London also boasts an established policy environment (e.g. Mayoral strategic policies), appropriate infrastructure (e.g. established small scale projects, administrative bodies such as TfL and the London Boroughs etc) and systems (common waste and landfill management systems) that can be adapted and leveraged to help establish a bicycle recycling scheme. The report concludes by presenting a range of options and associated recommendations for consideration by the client on how to take an initiative for London forward. Key findings include: • Although many of the recycling schemes in operation around the UK can secure profitable income from sales of recycled bicycles, new and old parts and accessories, most were established using grant funding to ‘pump prime’ or to maintain viability of the project. In many cases grant funding is still a fundamental requirement to ensure continual provision of the service, however there are exceptions (e.g. Oxford Cycle Workshop), which have been able to trade profitably without third party grants or funding support.

• Securing and maintaining skilled labour (wages, training, retention, recruitment etc) represents the most significant challenge and burden for schemes. As many of the schemes rely on volume of sales to ensure that costs can be covered, affordable and effective skilled labour is a success factor that schemes require. Whilst many depend on volunteers, some scheme operators have turned to prison services to provide very low cost and enthusiastic (low churn rate!) labour in order to reduce costs and increase volume throughput. • There are a number of schemes in London that utilise discarded bicycles. However, most of these schemes are focused on training and skills, rather than on recycling significant numbers of bicycles and introducing them to market. Other schemes outside of London also vary in terms of purpose, however two notable schemes work well as a commercial venture (by covering operating costs), namely the Oxford Cycle Workshop and the Edinburgh based Bike Station.

• There is an estimated annual total number of 27,500 potential discarded bicycles in London. This estimated figure represents approximately 5% of total new bicycle sales in London, which are estimated at 560,000 per annum. From a contextual perspective, even if half of the potential 27,500 bicycles were salvageable via a London bicycle recycling scheme, it would currently outperform all of the current UK based recycling schemes combined. Key sources of bicycles includes discarded bicycles at civic amenity sites, as well as bicycles recovered by the Metropolitan Police Service (stolen or abandoned). Restricted – Commercial ED06240 – Issue 1 Momenta iv

• Demand in London would potentially be significant for recycled bicycles, particularly as 14% of London’s population is made up of students in higher and further education. In addition to this, London has experienced a growth in cycling particularly in central London (congestion charge area), spurred on by promotion of cycling to work schemes (as part of travel plans), pool bikes, increases in cycle lane infrastructure and parking facilities. An additional beneficiary market could also include the large number of London’s long term unemployed that could utilise low cost bicycles to improve their access to jobs in London. • Recycling schemes have been established around the UK for a variety of reasons. The majority have been established voluntarily for training and engaging with young people, whilst only a handful have been developed to provide a range of services including sales of quality cheap bicycles (The Bike Station, Oxford Cycle Workshop and Waltham Forest).

• The most common challenge to all schemes was making the logistics (inbound and outbound) of their operation efficient and cost effective. This has been predominantly due to the unpredictability of supply of, and in some cases, demand for quality recycled bicycles. This challenge also extended, in part, to labour efficiencies from both a throughput (ability to process/maintain bicycles) and a cost point of view (many are volunteers, but some are employees). Few scheme operators have any experience in logistics operations or general management skills and little has been done to apply reverse logistics concepts to such schemes.

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