If one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, Davidson Lewis is a gold miner. He and his team at Colorado-based Green Guru sift through the outdoor industry’s waste stream – which is more like a raging river – looking for durable, high-quality materials that can be converted into anything from heavy-duty to flashy purses – von-unique bicycle bags.
Lewis’ first job was in a bicycle shop. “And your first job in a bike shop is changing flat tires all day.” So Lewis has a Ph.D. in housing repair – but became increasingly “concerned about how many tubes are thrown away”.
And those piles of rubber tires stuck to him. After graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in industrial design, Lewis started Green Guru in 2005 to turn trash in the bicycle business into practical products for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s a practice known as upcycling, and it’s often confused with recycling. Lewis explains it as “taking something that has no value and turning it into something of greater value”. Recycling, on the other hand, he says, “essentially takes something and shuts it down.”
For Green Guru it was just the beginning to give bicycle tubes a second life. “Soon after, we took over climbing ropes and wetsuits as other equipment waste,” he says. “And then we started adding other salvage materials like tents and awnings – basically any durable material – into the Green Guru line of products.” Today the line includes rucksacks, hip bags, panniers, various bike bags, bottle cages and the latest: the Travel Kit in collaboration with REI Co-op. The versatile 12-inch bag keeps small personal items such as toiletries or electronics organized – and heaps of outdoor gear waste away from the landfill.
The raw materials of the travel kit – bicycle tubes, climbing ropes and sleeping mats – are ideal candidates for upcycling. As Lewis discovered during his time in the bike shop, hoses popping are pinched by the pail load. Although many cyclists choose to patch tubes until they look like scarecrow jumpsuits, breakdowns near the valve, overlapping patches, or full blown breakouts make repairs ineffective. Climbers also examine ropes for damage and replace them regularly. And inflatable sleeping mats, which the REI sustainability team has identified as another ideal product for upcycling, inevitably burst or leak.
For Green Guru these materials are only “waste” when you want to use them for their original purpose. But Lewis saw so many other creative uses. So he organized a collection from them in REI stores and bike stores, as well as from individuals across the country.
Each travel kit (exclusive to REI) uses a third of a bicycle tube for the grippy base and handle, which prevents wet counters from messing up your toiletries and protects the electronics from the elements. Four inch rope sheath sturdy the zipper pulls. While the zippers are not upcycled, they are salvaged from local suppliers (hence the two-tone styling). The colorful patchwork with the sleeping mats on the top of the travel kit makes the durable bag (10 x 4.5 x 3.5 inches) bright, playful and unmistakable. A total of 990 bicycle tubes, 425 sleeping bags and 12,000 inches of rope will be diverted from the landfill.
“We’re talking about durable materials and equipment that were designed to last a very long time,” says Lewis. That long life now includes a second act of Green Guru outfit.
Want to participate?
REI members and customers have been donating bicycle tubes to Green Guru for a decade. If you’d like to help upcycling the brand with old gear, get in touch here. Green Guru is currently requesting bicycle tubes, climbing ropes and wetsuits. If you have a flat tire, take your bike to the nearest REI bike shop (call ahead; shop hours and availability vary). We will be happy to get you up and running in no time and send your hose to Green Guru.
For more stories about brands doing a good job, check out our Good Gear landing page.