PRESS RELEASE: Thousands of carbon fiber bicycles end up in landfills each year, and Specialized wants to change that.
Based on existing carbon fiber recycling programs used by the aerospace industry, Specialized is steering bikes away from the landfills and back into usable goods. The California bicycle company will be doing this by working with bike shops to collect damaged carbon frames and transport them to a U.S. recycler. The program will expand to its EU operations as soon as appropriate resources are identified.

The process of recycling carbon fiber consists of chopping the frame into smaller sections, then burning off the epoxy that holds the fibers together in an oxygen-free environment. This results in shorter fibers with the same properties as the original material that can be used in a variety of ways.

“You’re probably not going to make a bike from recycled carbon, but you can make a range of products with the shorter fibers. For example, Boeing recycles its stabilizer fins into armrests,” said Bryant Bainbridge, Specialized’s Sustainability Strategist. “Besides keeping these frames out of the landfill, you’re recovering carbon with significantly less energy than it took to make virgin material.”

“Specialized is committed to addressing what happens to our bikes at end of life because it’s the right thing to do. But this program isn’t about being brand exclusive,” Bainbridge said. “Trek is also doing good work here and every company in the industry that produces carbon products is encouraged to join in the effort.”

Going forward, participating Specialized dealers will accept carbon frames (from any brand) which will be picked up by Specialized and shipped to Materials Innovation Technology for recycling. Specialized will report back to the industry at the 2012 Eurobike and Interbike shows on the number of frames recycled, the amount of carbon fiber recovered, and what has been learned.

“At that time we will make a formal call for an industry coalition to recycle carbon fiber,” Bainbridge said. “This is a shared industry problem and one we all need to address. We are going to pick up the tab now, but we want everyone on board. This is about collaboration, not egos. Come Eurobike, we’ll share everything we’ve learned.”

Specialized recently joined the Outdoor Industry Association Eco-Index working group, and is an active participant in the creation of a comprehensive system for evaluating and improving a product’s environmental footprint.
Specialized will contact its dealers in January about the specifics of how to handle carbon frame returns and the start date for the take back program.


  1. It’s only a matter of time until there will be new bikes made from recycled bikes. Surely not for the high-end market, but I’m certain it will find application in the urban bike market. I’m all for it.

  2. This really is down-cycling, not recycling. Hopefully in time they can develop the techniques to truly recycle. But kudos to Specialized and others for pushing this forward.

  3. Gillis – you’re absolutely right, it is “downcycling”. Every reprocessing of the carbon fiber is shortening the fiber length. You aren’t going to chop a frame and make another frame, but you may make several very low cost composite helmet shells, body armor, fenders or shoe soles. This process is not only going to reuse material, but it will generate lower cost, high quality CF products.

    I know the CEO of Materials Innovation Technology – they’re doing some really amazing things at their RCF plant in SC. Think a step uphill from cycling – like aerospace, where the sheer volume and quality of CF is a different world. That downcycled CF can be converted into automotive body panels for trains, cars and buses.

    You may have a 30 year lifecycle for an aircraft winglet downcycled into a 20 year body panel for a light rail train, then downcycled into a 15 year lifecycle watercraft dash panel, then downcycled into a 15 year lifecycle flower pot, then…

  4. This good all the way around. While the process might be inefficient economically and physically right now, it will only improve as more companies become involved. This will eventually lead to more applications for the “recycled” product.

  5. Downcycling is a great first step. They should start applying it to the heaviest low-stress parts of the plane. Drink carts, seat parts (like they have), overhead bins, etc. Every pound that society insists must be flown against gravity using fossil or food fuels should be reduced as much as possible. Saves the airlines money, and tons of CO2. This would be a healthier re-purposing than carbon watches and flower pots.

What do you think?