How to Recycle a Bike Helmet: 6 Options for an Old Helmet

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Although cycling is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to travel, there is still the issue of what to do with bike accessories when they are worn out or damaged.

You may be replacing your beloved bike helmet because it’s taken a knock, or simply old and expired. But in an increasingly environmentally-conscious age, the last thing anyone wants is to see an old helmet (or anything else) ending up in a landfill.

And the good news is, it doesn’t have to.

How Long Are Bicycle Helmets Good For?

Bike helmets, like almost anything, do expire over time. Exactly when will depend on the amount of use, wear and tear, and even other factors such as storage conditions or hair products used. However, the consensus among manufacturers is to replace a helmet every three to five years.

This isn’t to say that every helmet is going to be useless after three years or so. The CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) in the United States, recommends replacing a helmet every five to ten years. But as safety is the key reason to wear a helmet, it’s better to err on the side of caution. In short, your helmet needs to be as good as it can be.

With this in mind, helmets should always be replaced after incurring an impact of force, whether from an accident or otherwise. Even if it looks intact, the smallest cracks in the foam polystyrene will reduce the level of protection.

What to Do With Old Helmets?

Whether you’ve used your bike helmet for commuting for years and you feel it’s had its day, or you’re looking to upgrade to something more sophisticated such as a smart helmet, there are a number of ways to dispose of or reuse your old helmet. Recycling, upcycling and donating are all options.

Sell Used Bike Helmet

Selling a used bike helmet is only an appropriate option if it is relatively new and has had very little use. Most people may not want to buy a used helmet, for fair and obvious reasons. It’s certainly not a good idea to buy a second-hand helmet without knowing its age and history.

Helmets can be donated if they’re in good condition. Emergency services will sometimes take them to use for training, and they could also be given to schools or local drama groups for use as props. They should never be donated for re-use if they are expired or damaged.

Donating to charity shops is out of the question; they’ll almost never take any safety/protective equipment that is used.

Common advice is to find local organisations that accept used helmets. This can be, however, more easily said than done. Unless I’m just unlucky, an hour on Google searching for such organisations took me no further towards finding any. It is still worth looking, though, as you may have more luck in your area. You could also put a shout out in a local community forum if you have one.

In terms of donating to emergency services, you could try the fire brigade or St John’s Ambulance Service.

Recycle Bike Helmet

Most bike helmets are made with expanded polystyrene foam and a polycarbonate shell. Technically, these are recyclable materials. If they are accepted at recycling centres then the helmet will need to be dismantled beforehand to separate the different parts.

But whether a standard bike helmet can be recycled still seems to be something of a grey area. Currently, there is no official program for recycling bike helmets. Essentially, you need to contact your local recycling centre to see whether they will accept them. 

Some manufacturers are beginning to respond to the environmental crisis and are making bike accessories, including helmets, unequivocally recyclable. But we’re still a long way away from the point where any old helmet can be readily and easily popped into the recycle bin.

Repurpose Bike Helmet Ideas

Upcycling is currently the most sustainable option for most expired bike helmets. Even if some parts of a standard bike helmet can be recycled, there are still other parts that cannot. Repurposing the helmet eliminates any waste along with any mystery about where it’s ending up.

And this is by far my favourite option. I’m a huge fan of upcycling – it’s a perfect antidote to the ‘throwaway’ culture we’re becoming ever more conscious of. It’s just so satisfying to see something become a very useful something else, and here are some ideas on how to make that happen.

Hanging Plant Basket

With a ready-made strap to hang it with, your old helmet will look amazing as a quirky flower pot. Simply line the bottom with stones, fill with compost and plant your seeds! For an even funkier hanging helmet-pot, you can paint or decorate the shell, too.

Storage Bowl

Given that bike helmets are more or less bowl-shaped, they can be used for storing fruit, veggies, or pretty much anything that will fit. Hang it up in the kitchen and get creative with the shell design.

Helmet Lamp

Helmets can be converted into unusual and pretty cool-looking wall or desk lamps. For this, you’ll need to get a lamp-making kit, which can be bought fairly cheaply and easily online. As a wall light, the effect of the light shining through the holes is quite unique.

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