A new lease of life for bikes once destined for the landfill

Sadly, there’s no denying the inherent over consumption and resultant waste in our western culture. Forgotten bikes languish in garages, or are simply discarded in landfills.

Pedals for Progress, aka P4P, is an organisation that coordinates the collections of such wasted machines, reassigning them to parts of the world where they’re both appreciated and desperately needed. The non-profit organisation was set up by David Scheidenback in 1991 after witnessing the transformative effects of bicycles while working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. What began as a desire to send a handful of donated bikes to South America, grew within a year to a non-profit that had shipped 500 bikes worldwide.

Over the 22 year period in which it’s been operational, the organisation has received, processed, and donated a grand total of 137,273 bicycles.  Of course, bikes need parts to maintain them and P4P has also donated almost $11 million in new spare parts to partner charities in 38 developing world countries, including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Uganda and Vietnam.

Larry Perez, the recipient of the 125,000th bicycle donated to Pedals for Progress.

In Albania for instance, a bike sharing scheme was set in the country’s capital, using the majority of the 1465 bicycles sent there. These bicycles were repaired and repainted, sending out an important ecological message: “Put used bicycles into good use.” Post communist era, the capital’s ever growing numbers of cars are now clogging its streets with traffic, making the scheme all the more salient.

Then there are the sewing machines, two thousand of which have been donated since 1999. Similar to their two-wheeled brethren, neglected sewing machines are rounded up and sent to the same communities, piggy backing in the bicycle containers, making the most of all the available space. As well as providing schools the tools to teach valuable skills, these sewing machines have proved instrumental in providing economic stimulus and setting up new businesses.

All of which is underlined by P4P’s Mission Statement: “To supply economic development aid by recycling bicycles and sewing machines in the US and shipping them to the people of the developing word.” As with similar organisations, P4P recognises the important role that bicycles play in rural communities, with their ability to provide non-polluting transportation to work, markets, hospitals and schools. In some case, the bicycles are even adapted, transformed into trash haulers, taxis and farm machinery.

Building a trike from scratch.

To be truly effective long term, a self-sufficient business model is needed. Typically, P4P will liaise with a community-owned non-profit, helping in the delivery of the first cargo shipment. From then on the onus lies on the community to pay for the expense of the container, using the sales from repaired bicycles.

As a result, the P4P aims to help local economies by promoting ecologically friendly, self-sustaining bicycle repair businesses, rather than simply encouraging a reliance on donations. Shops are set up where adults and children alike can learn to maintain their bicycles. Work positions are made available, offering newfound skills, as well as the means to earn a bicycle for those who might struggle to afford it.


Learning skills for new work opportunities.


The school run. 

P4P calls this method a simple solution for a complicated planet. As Scheidenback puts it: “You can change someone’s life with your bike.”

Learn more about P4P in the Bicycle City, a documentary on how the bicycle brought a war-torn Nicaraguan city new life.


Photo credits: Pedals for Progress and Greg Sucharew