Call 0 800 Junk! China’s Growing Problem With Bicycles
As far as Auckland goes, the Junk2Go team are happy to handle most of the junk that people throw our way. There are a few junk conundrums out there, however, that we would probably think twice about before trying to tackle. One of the latest of these is China’s sudden surplus of bikes. By the end of 2017, at least two million bikes were believed to have been abandoned throughout China’s city streets and junk heaps. In Xiamen city, one such junk heap, made up only of bicycles, has grown roughly as large as a football field, and is so tall that the bikes at the top of the stack can only be moved by construction cranes.
Sad to say, it was the combination of two trends normally considered eco-friendly – the use of bikes as an alternative to motor transport, and the sharing economy – which led to this situation. China’s love affair with the bicycle has a long history. While motorcycles and European cars are common status symbols today, in the much poorer country of several decades ago, bicycles could be associated with wealth. They were certainly a remarkably common means of transportation: in the 1980s, 63% of all trips were by bicycle.
By 2014, however, this had declined to only 17.8%, no doubt as a result of the increasing availability of both public transport and motor vehicles. At the same time, bikes were still popular enough for entrepreneurs to spot an opportunity. Having one’s bike stolen and sold on was a common experience for Beijing residents, and after losing a number of bikes in this way, Dai Wei, a former economics student at Peking University, decided to do away with bike ownership altogether. He co-founded Ofo, a brand name deliberately selected to look like a bike – which rapidly grew into a company worth $2 billion.
Ofo weren’t the only ones to see an opportunity. As time went on, more than 50 firms entered the fray, bringing the number of shared bikes in China up to as high as 18 million. Bikes were found and borrowed from mobile apps, and when users were done, they just had to leave a bike for the next customer. The convenience of not having to return bikes to a docking station meant that, in cities such as Chengdu, the majority of people were choosing shared bikes rather than the underground railway system. In Beijing alone, there were 2.4 million bicycles being used by these companies, compared to New York and London, which each use less 20,000.
But even with such enthusiastic usage, it wasn’t long before the bike situation got out of hand. Due to fierce competition, prices for bike usage were driven extremely low, and this coupled with the sheer number of bikes made repairs and maintenance unmanageable. Bikes with issues like broken brakes and chains increasingly plagued customers, and it became common to have to try several broken bikes before finding one that was useable. The situation really came to a head in the second half of 2017, when six bike sharing firms, including Bluegogo, the third biggest, went bankrupt.
What started out as a business initiatives with health and environmental benefits has turned into a waste problem on a colossal scale. While there isn’t an end in sight to the piles of bicycles, with all of the innovative recycling schemes going on in the world, there has got to be a solution. We just hope they find it fast!
In the meantime, if you’ve got an Auckland-based junk problem on a slightly smaller scale that you need taken care of, then don’t hesitate to give us a call on 0800 586 524.