Sustainable Bicycle bags - Made in Germany
For many cyclists, ais an indispensable companion in daily life. What if it were possible to make them completely from recycled plastic packaging that is produced in everyday life? A true circular economy, in other words? We have succeeded in doing just that for the first time with the new VAUDE ReCycle series of bike bags. Made in Germany - tested in Africa: We give you an insight into the challenging development story from the idea to the first prototype tests to the series product.
A long journey to the first bicycle bag completely from recycled materials
It's a hot day in Uganda. In a small town in the African savannah, four bicycle travelers from Germany stop to take a break. Dust hangs in the air. While they seek refreshment in the shade, their bikes remain in the blazing midday sun. Kai Vogt casts one more searching glance at the two yellow panniers on his bike before placing his helmet on the luggage rack. The bags look almost identical, but they are fundamentally different. One is a prototype with the new back plate and attachment hooks made from recycled materials. The other is a conventional model and is used for comparison. Kai Vogt is Head of Innovation and Hardware at VAUDE, and his vacation is something of a dress rehearsal for the ReCycle bags' carrying system. In retrospect, he confesses:
"I had slight doubts about whether the sustainable prototype would survive 1,500 kilometers of piste in difficult conditions, but I wanted to find out."
After all, almost three years of work had already gone into the project. Constructing a pannier from recycled plastic waste may sound like a small thing. But the load-bearing elements, at the latest, required pioneering technical work. So it was not an easy road from the idea to the dress rehearsal and market readiness.
Over three years of development and testing
Why so much effort? VAUDE has set itself the goal of manufacturing 90 percent of its products from predominantly recycled or bio-based materials by 2024 at the latest. This will decisively reduce the consumption of fossil resources and CO² emissions.
More detailed information on our targets can be found in our detailed sustainability report.
In the case of recycling, moreover, waste that would otherwise end up in the incinerator becomes valuable raw materials. In the case of the bike bag, after the recycled main material, the carrying system was the next step and a real challenge for the development team led by plastics specialist Clément Affholder. The back plate of a pannier for the rack must be UV-resistant, abrasion-resistant, dimensionally stable and impact-resistant - even in heat and cold. Here, VAUDE could not simply fall back on existing technologies. There wasn't any. So in Tettnang-Obereisenbach in Upper Swabia, new ground had to be broken: "We were keen to work with post-consumer waste. It was also important to us to implement the project in a German or European supply chain in order to keep the distances short - also in subsequent production," says Affholder, explaining the starting point. In 2018, at the International Trade Fair for Plastics Processing (Fakuma), the team got into conversation with the environmental service provider and recycling specialist Interzero. An initial exchange gave rise to optimism. It was clear that basic research was needed, and now the ideal partner seemed to have been found to tackle the project. Under the name procyclen®, Interseroh produces recycled plastics based on plastic packaging from the yellow garbage can (or yellow bag) that can be customized. Unknown at the time, however, was the best formulation for the back panel of a bicycle bag. To find it, well over 50 prototypes were manufactured and tested on the way to a market-ready bag.
Load tests are part of the development process and often allow important conclusions to be drawn. Video: VAUDE
The plastic composition had to be adjusted more than ten times until all properties met the criteria. A lengthy process, because the production of the prototypes required the same steps that the final back panels now undergo in series production: Interseroh sorts and cleans plastic waste at its plant in Brandenburg and uses it to produce so-called post-consumer regranulate. The granulate is melted in the Czech Republic and injection molded into the shape of the back panel. Back at VAUDE, pack sacks, back plates and retaining systems are then assembled into finished bags in the company's own manufacturing facility. The fastening hooks with somewhat different requirements come from another partnership. Together with APK AG from Merseburg, a reinforced polyamide recyclate was found that consists of waste from packaging production and is up to the task.
The travel diary of a bicycle bag. Video: Kai Vogt.
In-house laboratory as key to success for highest Quality
To check whether the prototypes would withstand the high stresses of everyday use, they repeatedly went to the in-house test lab even before assembly. Particularly in the early phase, some back panels broke or deformed even here. The recycled polypropylene could not keep up with the mechanical properties of virgin plastic. As a result, experiments with additives were carried out in the laboratory and the design was adapted in the technical development department. As soon as the first prototypes had passed the standardized material tests, bags could be tested in practice. In most cases, they were used by VAUDE employees in everyday life. Problems that arose were evaluated directly with the developers and taken into account in the development of the next generation. During the entire process, the VAUDE innovation team worked closely with Interseroh to optimize the material properties step by step. But the injection molding manufacturing process also had to be kept in mind at all times.
"We're not doing rocket science here, but our standards are pretty high. It was important to us that the function could at least keep up in comparison with conventional bags."
In particular, the impact resistance in cold conditions caused the developers* some headaches until they found a solution. The ambitious goal was for the back panels to not only survive average German winters, but also to withstand Scandinavian climates, for example, where temperatures of -20 °C and below are not uncommon. Only a large test session, in which several dozen back plates made of more than six different plastic compounds were tested for their resilience and beyond, revealed the best candidate.
After several generations of prototypes, the opportunity arose for the dress rehearsal in Uganda. And despite slight doubts, the bag performed convincingly over 1,500 kilometers on trails through tropical rainforest and dusty savannah. As expected, it showed signs of use when Kai Vogt brought the yellow bag back to Tettnang. But it still worked perfectly. Neither the constant shaking in the mountains nor the dusty dryness and heat could break the ReCycle. The practical endurance test was successfully passed.
The travel diary of a bicycle bag. Video: Kai Vogt.
Before series production could begin, the standardized endurance test on the test bench and final pollutant tests were carried out. Clément Affholder emphasizes, "We naturally have the same, high safety standards for the ReCycle bags as we do for all our products, and we didn't want to compromise on that." No question, the first fully recycled bicycle bags were able to clear this hurdle as well.