Solid Waste Recycles Bikes

April 27, 2017
For Immediate Release

Solid Waste Recycles Bikes

Solid Waste Says, "Re-Cycle Your Bi-Cycle"

Here is an opportunity to get rid of a bicycle or two that are languishing in your garage or basement and to help people in the U.S. and in developing countries. Like most of us, you'd like to free up some space for other things. But where to put the bikes? Gee….they take up a lot of room. The kids are in college and don't want their childhood toys. You like to exercise but biking is not your thing anymore. Should the bikes go out with the trash? Are they worth anything? Can anyone use them?

"Your old bike is valuable to people in developing countries and the U.S. who do not have transportation except their own human power," said John Kellas, Deputy Director, Solid Waste Management Program (SWMP). "We have a memo of understanding with Bikes for the World and the ideal place for your donated bike where it will be put to its highest and best use," John said.

So: "Re-Cycle your Bi-Cycle."

About six years ago, the county partnered with Bikes for the World, a non-profit organization that makes quality used bicycles and bike parts affordable and available to lower income people in the U.S. and developing countries. Unwanted bikes are donated at the I-66 Transfer Station or the I-95 Landfill Complex and held for later pickup by Bikes for the World. There are several benefits: the bikes help people gain skills repairing bicycles; those people then have transportation so they get jobs; and the county keeps used bikes out of the waste stream. This is one way that the county's Solid Waste Management Program serves the community above and beyond normal trash and recycling duties.

What had been waste is now a benefit. It's similar to the Solid Waste practice with paint; all of the latex paint that is received by SWMP is donated to Habitat for Humanity. Habitat sells the paint and it is one of their largest sources of revenue. Solid Waste is also one of the biggest local sources of donated bikes for Bikes for the World.

Keith Oberg is the founder and director of Bikes for the World which is listed as "one of the best, small, non-profits in the area," according to the 2014/15 Catalogue for Philanthropy of Greater Washington. "Bikes for the World rewards everyone: bike donors; volunteers; recipients locally and overseas," Keith said. "It's all about economic efficiency, empowerment, and environmentalism," he said. "A bicycle can move someone someplace - like from poverty to self-sufficiency."

Bikes for the World doesn't just drop off the bikes and split. They partner with existing community programs that employ people to repair and distribute the bikes, generating employment and income. The bikes provide needed transportation in countries where vehicles are few and pedestrians are many. Just think if you and everyone in your family had to walk to do all of your errands. A bicycle for people who have no transportation except foot power helps them obtain medical care, get to and from work or school, do their grocery shopping, visit family and to go almost anywhere they want. Just one free bike for each needy family would be more than welcome, particularly in developing countries.

Keith was a commuter cyclist who worked for nonprofits and the Federal Government as an economist to small farmer cooperatives and other self-help organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition to his full time job, he was working as a volunteer for a program that was collecting bikes for people oversees. Keith had so much fun working with people to collect the bikes, learning about repairing bikes and finding partners overseas that he just kept at it and suddenly Bikes for the World became a big organization. "I've been with Bikes for the World for 12 years and during that time we've sent 123,000 bikes overseas. We average about 10,000 bikes each year that we send to developing countries."

County employees and the public are welcome to donate their used bikes at the I-66 Transfer Station and the I-95 Landfill Complex. Just as metal, batteries and other materials are separated at these locations, Solid Waste employees carved out some space to store the donated bikes and they will gladly direct customers to the area where the bikes are stored for later pickup. "My rough estimate is that we receive 25 to 30 bikes a week for donation to Bikes for the World," said Quentin Marovelli, Complex Manager, I-66 Transfer Station. I-95 Landfill Complex Manager Eric Forbes estimates his site accepts five to ten bikes each week. That's a whopping estimate of 1,560 bicycles donated through Fairfax County to Bikes for the World annually.

Let's say you have a bike or two that are taking up valuable space at home. To throw them in the trash seems wasteful and just plain wrong. Maybe your not-used-for-years bikes are missing a seat here or a pedal there. No worries. Just take those bikes - if not rusted too much - to the I-66 or the I-95 facility and tell the staff there you want to donate your bike to Bikes for the World. Your donation will be gladly accepted and stored until Keith Oberg or a volunteer comes by with a truck to take them away. "The employees at I-66 and I-95 have been really helpful," Keith said. "They've made some really good suggestions that have helped Bikes for the World."

Only donations of used bikes are accepted. Baby strollers and children's tricycles are not needed but Keith would be thrilled to have an adult tricycle. "We accept donations of partial bikes that are not total wrecks, not rusted all over," he said. Keith and his volunteers screen out bikes that are too far gone. Sometimes the parts are better than the whole, so useable parts are saved and the remaining metal is recycled. "We collect parts in the U.S. and ship them overseas where the bush mechanics in Africa, for example, can rig anything and make the bike work," he said. Another example is a program in Barbados that employs two, and they provide transportation to one thousand people each year. "Our motivation is to empower communities," Keith said.

Keith works with hundreds of community organizations and nonprofits locally. For example, scout troops sponsor bike collections as a community project. It's challenging to sponsor a bike collection, do the publicity and find a site for donations. Usually 100 to 150 bikes are gathered at these events. At one such event, 400 bikes were donated. "If a community wants to do a project like collecting used bikes for Bikes for the World," Keith said. "We provide the tools, teach them how it's done, and help train their volunteers so they know how to accept the types of bikes that are useful to the organization. Collecting bikes for lower income people who need transportation is a very rewarding event for a community organization," he said.

Keith built partnerships with Fairfax County and other local jurisdictions to obtain bikes. "Bike shops work with us and although they have limited and expensive rental space they collect bikes for Bikes for the World," Keith said. "I've found that people who sell or work on bikes are loathe to throw them away." In addition to the Fairfax County facilities there are about 20 local bike shops in the area that are drop off points for donated bikes.

Bikes for the World provides wide tire bikes to rural areas; in Africa people need mountain bikes for adults; in Central America some of the workers receive a small Christmas bonus and frequently purchase a used bike as a gift for a child. Road bikes are distributed in the United States through youth programs in Maryland, Virginia and the District. In Kentucky, Bikes for the World partners with the state anti-obesity program and provides bikes for overweight children whose families can't afford such a purchase.

"My focus right now is international because bikes, especially adult or mid-sized bikes, keep kids in school," Keith said. "There is a real need in Africa where children graduate from elementary school and then drop out because the high school is too far away. This is particularly true for girls," he said. "The bikes we provide help these children to get an education and later, they get jobs."

Keith tells a story about a carpenter who owned a bike; the carpenter was able, using his bike, to cover a larger area in which to work and he made more money to support his family. Bikes that are owned by trades people, small farmers, and housewives (who must carry water back to their homes) are examples that show that the donated bikes are not just for kids. Bikes for the World provides an alternative to walking, which gives people an incentive to achieve. "The bikes empower people," Keith said. Servicing bikes is labor intensive and a bike that may need a minor repair generates employment in developing countries. The people gain job skills and income. Also, in developing countries some rural health care providers now have bikes, thanks to Bikes for the World. They make their medical rounds more quickly which means their patients recover and get back to work sooner. This increases economic velocity.

The Fairfax County Solid Waste Management Program assisted Bikes for the World in other ways. The Board of Supervisors leased space to Bikes for the World at the Lorton prison. Bikes were stored there for later pick up and shipment oversees. Because the rent was so reasonable, Bikes for the World was able to channel thousands of bikes to needy people during the term of the lease, from 2011 to 2015.

"The county was a great help by allowing us to pay such a modest rent," Keith Oberg said. Bikes for the World, under Keith's leadership is at a point where it's important to measure impact. Anecdotally, in the Philippines, for example, it is known that children stay in school longer because they have transportation supplied by Bikes for the World; but that increase in schooling needs to be measured accurately and effectively.

Overseas groups are coming back to Bikes for the World, again and again, asking for more bikes and in some instances the recipients pay the shipping costs, confirming for John Kellas and Keith Oberg that what they are doing has value. "It's been a good collaboration," John said.

Bicycle recycling has come of age.

The next nearby bike donation event will be held on Saturday, May 6 at Trinity United Methodist Church, 2911 Cameron Mills Road, Alexandria, VA 22302; call 703-549-5500 or visit Bikes for the World.

Solid Waste Recycles Bikes
Complex manager Quentin Marovelli arranges donated bikes at the I-66 Transfer Station.


Contact: Matthew Kaiser, Public Information Officer 
Department of Public Works and Environmental Services 
703-324-8455, TTY 711


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