Five ways in which social enterprises embrace and innovate the rising bike culture

14th April 2021 | News

For the first time, data for 2019 in Germany shows that electric bikes were sold in higher numbers than diesel cars. It is estimated that the overall bike industry employs around 281,000 people in Germany alone.

As the European Commission pleads for cities to double bike lanes by 5,000 km in the next decade, it is clear that the industry will keep growing in coming years. Subsequently, bikes are likely to become an increasingly important waste stream.

Social enterprises from the RREUSE network collected 2,500 tonnes of used bikes in 2019. For instance, HERWIN, the re-use network of social enterprises in the Belgium region of Flanders, reported repairing 131,000 bikes in 2019, while also selling 6,800 second-hand bikes and renting 54,000.

To increase circularity and bring social innovation into mobility, social enterprises from the RREUSE membership are running a number of projects helping citizens, municipalities and re-use centres to embrace the potential of biking, including through:

  • Collaborating with public authorities: Recently, the Northern Ireland Resources Network (NIRN) and East Belfast Mission received pre-owned bikes from the Belfast City Council with the aim to re-use them, preventing waste while creating jobs and training opportunities. Het Goed in the Netherlands reached similar agreements with the municipality of Rotterdam.
  • Fostering repair and maintenance skills: The Bike Station, a social enterprise based in Edinburgh, offers free cycle checks, advice on repair, and even a mobile repair service. Not being able to offer some of these services because of COVID-19, the enterprise has reinvented itself offering ‘Fix Your Own Bike’ online sessions to all interested individuals, thus promoting self-sufficiency. Cyclo, in Belgium, provides similar tutorials, and also set up a participative workshop in which users can choose to fix their bikes by themselves, or with little help, with varying prices.
  • Providing essential service in times of COVID-19: In Scotland, Angus Cycle Hub, Just Cycle, and The Bike Station reacted to the pandemic by offering free bike servicing to key workers, working with commercial partners and public authorities to make it possible.
  • Bringing social and environmental innovation to the bike sector: De Kringwinkel Antwerp and Les Petits Riens in Brussels recently started using cargo bikes to transport donations and second-hand goods, thus minimising carbon emissions. In the case of De Kringwinkel Antwerp, the project launched as a consortium, including other biking organisations as a result of winning the ‘Slim naar Antwerpen’ project call by the city. It includes renting bikes to customers so they can bring home second-hand goods and use of bikes by the re-use centre to collect and deliver second-hand items. Similarly, Les Petits Riens, in partnership with urbike, received funding from BeCircular, a public programme aiming to support the transition to a circular economy, to use cargo bikes in order to maintain textiles drop off bins in Brussels.
  • Integrating biking into public transport: The network of bike points (‘fietspunten’) in the Belgian regions of Flanders and Brussels combines bikes with public transport to unlock the full potential of clean mobility. These bike repair points run by social enterprises including RREUSE members, offer citizens affordable bike rental, second-hand and repair services – most of the services being offered in the vicinity of train stations, thus facilitating access.

National policies are also moving forward in recognising bikes as one of the product categories to be tackled. France and Greece recently approved a new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme for sports equipment, thus making producers responsible for the end-of-life management of these goods. In France, it will be implemented by 2022, and at least 5% of the EPR contributions will be headed towards re-use funds. France recently reported a boom in sports equipment re-use centres run by social enterprises.

To ensure the extension of the lifespan of these products, taxation should be leveraged to incentivise re-use and repair including 0% VAT rates applied on the sale of second-hand goods and on the cost of the labour of repair. By promoting re-use and repair of bicycles, social enterprises can prevent waste while also creating job opportunities and improving access to bikes for disadvantaged people. Oscar Planells, Research Officer at RREUSE highlighted,

The rise of the biking culture is an immense opportunity for Europe to boost active and clean mobility. This rise should go hand in hand with increased re-use and repair practices wherever possible, and must be made available to all population groups. Social enterprises can ensure a longer lifespan for bikes while fostering innovation, employing disadvantaged people and enhancing local resilience”.