So... are you using that bike helmet?

I've had an old bike helmet sitting in my cubicle for months. The straps are frayed, the outer shell is scuffed. I never crashed while wearing it (at least, not that I recall), but it's past its prime. And it's high time that I put it out to pasture.

But what's the best way to do that?

As someone who rides a bike, in part, because it's the sustainable choice in a world where resources are scarce and environmental degradation is rife, I'm maybe a bit more careful about my so-called "ecological footprint" than is healthy or practical. I have a compost bucket on my kitchen counter that's always full of fruit flies. I shower in three minutes flat. I shop at thrift stores and use fabric napkins. I know these superficial efforts don't amount to much, but living this way makes me feel like I'm at least trying to do my part.

And about that bike helmet. I can't bear the thought of it disintegrating in a landfill over hundreds (or thousands?) of years. So, I've been thinking: Can you recycle those things? Has anyone tried to re-purpose them?

I scoured the internet for answers. And the short answer is, well, yes and no.

Photo courtesy of jenny hulme's flickr stream. Evidently, it's been done before.

According to a page on the volunteer-run Bicycle Safety Institute's website, "We do not know of any recycling programs specifically for bicycle helmets. Some parts can be reused if you take the helmet apart."

Further down the page, the BSI explains (in a passage that I deem to be pretty adorable),

There are limited possibilities for reusing a helmet. You might plant flowers in it and hang it on your front porch... Hunters might hang their old helmet in a tree and use it for target practice. Be careful of your backdrop, of course. And your local Emergency Medical Service may be able to use your old helmet as a training aid, teaching new EMS technicians how to treat a helmeted rider who is injured and on the ground. The EPS foam in your helmet is similar to the packing "peanuts" you get in boxes with all that stuff you buy over the Internet. So you can crumble that foam and use it to pack the cookies you send as holiday presents. Or you can crumble it into very small pieces and use it as a soil amendment, to lighten clay or other compacted soil.

So, there we have it, folks. Since we should all be replacing our helmets at least every forty years (no, sooner, really), I thought this information could be useful. After all, the holiday season is right around the corner. If no one on your list needs a planter, those helmet-foam packing peanuts should come in handy.