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We’re living in an age where our relationship with the environment is under scrutiny. More than ever before, we’re aware of how our behaviour (in terms of what we produce and what we consume) has a direct impact on the planet.
A growing number of people will happily do their bit in response to pollution and climate change. There are few who still feel comfortable adding to the mound of toxic waste ending up in landfill, and in the oceans.
But although we may want to recycle everything, some things are far easier than others to dispose of. Popping a milk carton into the bin on the driveway may be a cinch, but recycling bike parts and accessories is a different matter.
It takes more effort, thought, and sometimes creativity. And some bike accessories are easier to recycle than others. Standard cycle helmets are notoriously difficult things to recycle. The way forward? A helmet that’s eco-friendly, of course.
Are Helmets Eco-Friendly?
Most bike helmets are not eco-friendly. Many standard helmets are made from expanded polystyrene foam and a polycarbonate shell. These materials are recyclable and sometimes (but not always) accepted at recycling centres. But there are still other components of helmets that are not recyclable.
The nylon straps, buckles and smaller plastic components of ordinary helmets are unlikely to be accepted at any recycling centre. And even if the larger parts, when separated, can be recycled, they are rarely made out of recycled materials.
It’s ironic that whilst cycling is such an eco-friendly activity, so many cycling accessories, including helmets, simply don’t align with this. Some manufacturers have responded, and as a result there are some eco-friendly and sustainable cycle helmets out there. But these still make up a tiny percentage of the market.
There’s also the question of recycling itself – whether it is enough to do so, or indeed a sustainable activity at all. Statistics tell us that an estimated 4.9 million metric tons of plastic is produced for use each year in the UK, of which 75% becomes waste.
Although around 45% of household waste in the UK each year is sent for recycling, not all of it ends up being recycled. Over half of our plastic waste is sent overseas as we don’t have the facilities to recycle all of it. A recent Greenpeace investigation found that at least in some places, the waste is being dumped or burned.
Because of this, there’s a growing shift towards using alternative materials that are biodegradable. For cycle helmets, materials such as wood, cork, and cardboard are already being used to develop eco-friendly alternatives to plastic.
One issue with creating helmets out of radically different materials from the norm, is that helmets are key safety items. Studies show that cycle helmets reduce the risk of head or brain injury by 63 – 88%, and reduce injuries to the mid and upper face by 65%.
With this in mind, riders need to know that the helmet they use – whether they’re careering up and down mountains or on the daily commute in the city – will provide the same level of protection if it is eco-friendly and sustainable.
It can sometimes be difficult for people to make the change from what they know, particularly with a product that needs to perform exceptionally. This could be the reason why some start up companies developing sustainable cycle helmets haven’t yet made it to the market. It also explains why some helmets manufactured by mainstream brands (such as the Giro Silo helmet, which was entirely plant based) are no longer available.
Changing something that you put so much trust in can be daunting, but it’s worth remembering that all helmets, regardless of what they’re made from, have to pass rigorous safety tests before they can be sold.
Do Plastic-Free Bike Helmets Exist?
Helmets that are 100% plastic-free are extremely hard to find. Some have been developed, but are either no longer for sale, or never made it to the market. The Eco Helmet is plastic-free, being constructed out of cardboard, but sadly you won’t find it at your local bike store.
Unfortunately, most bike helmets do contain at least some plastic. Even wooden helmets, or helmets made out of other biodegradable materials do contain some plastic. This is commonly within the fastening.
Biodegradable and plastic-free helmets have been designed. These include the beautiful Cellufoam helmet, developed by Cellutech and made from biodegradable wood-based foam. However, this was designed as a showcase piece, and not for mass production.
Helmet giant Giro also brought out the Silo helmet, which was 100% plant based and biodegradable. Sadly, this is again no longer available.
There is clearly a will to design and produce plastic-free helmets, but we are still some way away from these items being easy to purchase. I remain optimistic that they will become more widespread. As laws on plastic use become stricter and demand for alternatives increases, biodegradable materials should become more mainstream, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Eco-friendly cycling helmets are still a niche market within the global bike helmet industry. Not all of those designed are easily (if at all) available yet, but they are in the pipeline. We’ve found a selection that are certainly moving us towards more sustainable options.
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Eco-Friendly Cycling Helmets [Top 3]
Sustainable Bike Helmet
Prices are approximate
- Weight: Small 360g, Medium 380g, Large 430g
Integrated dial fit system
Vegan leather carrying loop – use it to attach lights to your helmet
Dashel make a range of recyclable helmets that are manufactured sustainably, and when it’s time to renew your helmet, they’ll recycle it for you. With a slim, flattering design, they’re available in a range of colours. There’s also an upcycled Ocean Edition, with 10% of every purchase donated to marine conservation.
Available in six colours – black, red, white, light blue, blue and sage green, the Re-Cycle helmet is slim and flattering with a cap-like peak to protect you from rain and sun. It’s one of a range offered by Dashel that are manufactured sustainably and with ethical business practices.
As the name suggests, the shell and liner are both fully recyclable. Committed to reducing waste, Dashel deliver the helmet in a reusable drawstring bag that you can carry it around in, within a recyclable cardboard box.
Dashel are also working with their manufacturers and 3rd party suppliers to recycle, reuse or responsibly dispose of all parts of their helmets, to avoid anything going to landfill.
The helmet has five air vents and also comes with Dashel’s signature range of coolmax pads in two sizes. These not only wick away sweat but also enable you to fit the helmet to your exact head shape.
And that’s not all. There’s a vegan leather carry loop at the back of the helmet for clipping on lights for that extra visibility when commuting.
The Re-Cycle helmet is manufactured in Devon in a factory which, by the end of 2022, will run on 100% green energy.
Non-Toxic Bike Helmet
Prices are approximate
- Size: Medium (55 – 58cm); Large (58 – 62cm)
Shock-absorption through dual layer wood-cellulose fibre honeycomb board
Weatherproof and humidity-resistant wood-cellulose board
The Kranium Ecolution is a smart-looking helmet designed for regular urban use. It has also been designed to be ecologically sound and produced in an environmentally-friendly way. The shell is made from recycled material and the helmet core consists of a weather-resistant wood-cellulose fibre board that is recyclable.
The helmet padding is removable and washable, with a high percentage of natural fibre. Abus have greatly reduced the amount of synthetic fibre, and the small percentage used consists of recycled expanded polystyrene foam.
The designer, Anirao Surabhi, set out to create a helmet with the highest safety rating possible. The honeycomb structure of the helmet core is designed to absorb a significantly higher impact than traditionally-used EPS.
Although not all parts of this helmet are recyclable, much effort has been put into making it as sustainable as possible, and in terms of being eco-friendly, it’s a great leap forward from traditional helmets.
At the end of its life, the shell could be upcycled into a funky hanging basket to avoid going to into waste.
Plastic-Free Bike Helmet
- Size: One size fits all
Folds down smaller than any other helmet.
Stretchy material conforms to your head.
Winner of the prestigious international James Dyson Award for innovative design, the Eco Helmet is a fully recyclable, folding and vendable helmet designed for users of bike share schemes.
It’s made from recycled paper that is waterproofed with a biodegradable coating that’s resistant to rain for up to three hours. When not in use it can be folded flat, making it easy to store and easy to recycle.
The radial honeycomb design allows the helmet to absorb blows from any direction. Although it is made of paper, don’t let this alarm you. As with other helmets, this one has to pass the necessary tests to be CPSC certified, and its unique design allows it to take shocks as effectively as the polystyrene used in traditional helmets.
Almost 90% of users of bike share schemes currently don’t wear helmets. This is because the journeys are often spontaneous and people generally don’t carry helmets around with them. This is why the Eco Helmet is such a fantastic idea, to increase the safety of many city cyclists.
The downside? The Eco Helmet is not yet widely available and can only be purchased from Membrane Safety Solutions, LLC. You can, however, sign up to be posted on development updates and the launch date. This is one sustainable and eco-friendly helmet to watch out for.
The Newlane Helmet (Not Yet Available to Buy)
Made from recycled plastic and with an end-of-life recyclability program in place, the Newlane packable helmet is sustainable and very easy to store away. The honeycomb design is engineered to dissipate an impact of force, making it highly effective in an accident scenario.
It folds to a height of 81mm, reducing its volume by 50%. Weighing only 410g, it’s an innovative and ideal helmet for eco-friendly commuting.
Eco-Friendly Bike Helmets – FAQs
Are Bicycle Helmets Vegan-Friendly?
Almost all bike helmets are vegan-friendly. Non-vegan parts to watch out for are leather straps, but these are uncommon. The Thousand series manufacture helmets with vegan leather straps.
When Should You Throw Out Your Bike Helmet?
You should replace your helmet every three to five years, as recommended by most manufacturers. Helmets should also be replaced if they’ve taken an impact of force.
What to Do with Old Cycling Helmets?
Some parts of old cycling helmets can be recycled if a recycling centre will accept them. Old helmets can also be donated to emergency services for training purposes. If neither of these are possible, the helmet can be repurposed, for example as a hanging plant basket or fruit bowl.