Old Bicycle/Sports Helmets

Due to their physical composition, sports helmets are generally not accepted in curb-side recycling programs and drop-off sites.

Why is this an important issue?

For safety reasons, it is highly recommended that bicycle helmets* be replaced every few years or after a crash. The actual number of years after which bike helmets should be replaced (if not involved in a crash), however, is an ongoing debate. Some manufacturers create a “replace by date” for bicycle helmets. The dates are used as a communication safety tool to inform customers about replacing their helmets.. 

Bicycle helmets are created with different types of plastic, including rigid plastics, expanded polystyrene foam and nylon. In theory, all components could be recyclable if properly separated and recycled at appropriate locations. However, this is currently a difficult, labor-intensive process and some of the component plastics are not accepted for curbside or drop off recycling. As a result, many people find recycling all or part of their bicycle helmets challenging and therefore end up tossing them the garbage. 

*Special-use helmets

Helmets specifically marketed for exclusive use in an activity such as skateboarding, in-line skating, baseball, or roller hockey are not covered by the requirements for bicycle helmets. – United States Consumer Product Safety Commission

Replacing Football Helmets: Football helmets should be replaced no later than 10 years from the date of manufacture. Many helmets will need to be replaced sooner, depending upon wear and tear.

Recycling the components

Styrofoam core

Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) is recyclable but is not allowed in most curb-side recycling programs because it causes operational problems and contamination at the recycling facilities. Thus, EPS foam must be taken to a drop-off location to be properly recycled. In Washington there are a few locations where you can drop-off your EPS foam to be recycled. 

StyroCycle is a company located in Kent, WA that recycles EPS foam for free! They will take the EPS foam from your bicycle helmet as long as it’s clean and does not contain any contaminants (tape, stickers, etc.)

Plastic exterior

The rigid exterior plastic parts of the helmets may be recyclable. You will need to verify with your local recycling program to check if they accept these plastics. 

Straps and buckles

Due to the size and quantity of the nylon straps and plastic buckles, those items may better be repurposed or donated.

Other options

Reconditioning helmets: Reconditioning involves having an expert inspect and repair a used helmet. This involved fixing cracks or damage, replacing missing parts, testing it for safety, and recertifying it for use. Helmets should be serviced regularly by a licensed member of the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (NAERA). That said, some batter’s helmets have labels indicating that they should not be reconditioned.

Personal Actions

  1. Take good care of your helmet, so that it will last longer.
  2. Check safety labels and consider replacing based on manufacturers’ warnings.
  3. When you are ready to dispose, examine your helmet for components that can be recycled. Donate or repurpose useful components only. *

Do not donate bicycle helmets: Goodwill and most thrift stores do not accept used bicycle helmets. This is because they don’t know the history of the helmet, such as its age or if it has been involved in a crash. 

Policy Options

Bike helmets, like many products, should be designed for long life, with durable components and replaceable parts. This preserves natural resources and reduces the climate impact of the full life-cycle of these products.  

Currently, Right-to-Repair policy bills, such as those being promoted in Washington State, focus on electronic products. In the future, similar policies about durability and repairability of other consumer products will be on the docket.