Bike grips are the most recent item to be touched by the ocean sustainability movement and advocates for a circular economy. Bontrager, a bicycle component and accessory maker that's part of the Trek family of brands, has released a handlebar grip that includes a core composed of plastics that could have otherwise found their way to the open ocean.
This is not Bontrager’s first attempt at repurposing ocean-bound plastics. Last year, the company announced that its popular Bat Cage water bottle holder would now be made from recycled end-of-life fish nets. The company claims that one year of manufacturing this little cage saves 44,000 square feet of fishing net from entering the ocean.
The cage and grip are examples of the baby steps necessary for moving closer to a circular economy. Those at Bontrager see the grip as an “exciting move into a new product category and an expansion that sets the stage for using sustainable manufacturing methods for more plastic bike parts,” the company said in a press statement.
Bontrager’s journey to ocean-bound plastics began with collaboration. At the end of 2017, tech giant Dell and conservation nonprofit Lonely Whale created NextWave, a consortium of companies convening to create supply chains for ocean-bound plastics. Trek was a founding member, and it was through NextWave that Bontrager found a partnership with Bureo, based in Ventura, California. Bureo collects discarded fish nets, eventually shreds and melts the plastic into pellets, and creates products like the Bat Cage.
Cooperation is a building-block of NextWave. Kevin Brown, chief supply chain officer for Dell Technologies, said in NextWave’s 2019 Annual Report: “As we’ve become more engaged in the challenges facing our oceans, it’s become increasingly clear that the solution to marine plastic pollution requires bold innovation and open collaboration. No company can solve this issue alone.”
A new partnership with Plastix was the basis for Bontrager’s grip. The Danish cleantech company recycles fishnets, trawls and ropes into so-called “Green Plastic." These materials are sourced from ports, net makers and plastics collectors from around the world.
In only a couple of years of partnership, NextWave members have proven the viability of ocean-bound plastics as a resource. HP has created ink cartridges and display monitors using plastic bottles from Haiti. Ikea designed a collection that includes a tablecloth, two cushion covers and a polyester bag. Interface has developed carpet tiles.
Companies that strive toward a circular economy will benefit from this work. A 2017 study from The World Business Council for Sustainable Development found eight reasons for businesses to employ circular economy practices. A few of these included engaging customers and employees, spurring innovation, and differentiating themselves from the competition.
The last point was mitigating “linear risk exposure,” which takes a long view but applies to every industry. For one, establishing a circular economy is key to tackling climate change, an issue that touches every single company and every single life.
“A 1.5 degree world can only be a circular world,” Harald Friedl, CEO of Circle Economy, said at the 2019 World Economic Forum annual meeting, referring to the multilateral push to cap global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius. “Recycling, greater resource efficiency and circular business models offer huge scope to reduce emissions. A systemic approach to applying these strategies would tip the balance in the battle against global warming.”
Small steps like reconfiguring a bike grip can make ripples toward circularity in the global business community not only through the waste captured and reused, but also by putting these issues at the forefront.
NextWave’s managing director, Dune Ives, wrote in the 2019 annual report: “Today, NextWave member companies are preventing plastic from reaching the ocean by demonstrating that ocean-bound plastics carry a commercial value, and in doing so, are raising awareness across the global manufacturing community.”
Bontrager’s ocean plastics products are examples of the tangible benefits of companies working closely together to collaborate on a solution. Simply convening around a shared goal and purpose can spur partnerships and innovation. Those results are not to be taken lightly.
Image credit: Trek
Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn.