Labor & Workforce

Discarded bicycles in Amsterdam get second chance to ride

By Imane Rachidi

Amsterdam, Mar 30 (efe-epa).- Where pedestrians see rusty, old, disused bicycles piling up on corners and parking lots in Amsterdam that appear to be little more than scrap metal, the Roetz factory sees a golden opportunity to restore a quintessential symbol of Dutch life.

But as well as giving the bikes a new lease of life, the factory also provides people with troubled backgrounds a chance to work and turn their own lives around by transforming the rickety two-wheelers that litter the city’s streets into customized, functioning and elegant models, in turn contributing to maintaining and enriching the Netherlands’ cycling heritage and culture.

Bikes are a staple of Dutch life. They are parked on every corner, have their own road lanes and rules, and are ridden by people of all ages and backgrounds.

Children ride them to school, adults ride them to work, and even the prime minister, Mark Rutte, arrives at his office in The Hague every day on his bicycle.

Their ubiquity and availability though means that many of the country’s street corners and parking lots resemble bicycle graveyards. The Dutch, on average, abandon around one million bikes each year.

This unique situation presents a business opportunity which the start up Roetz did not want to miss out on – to recycle the discarded bikes and parts and transform them into totally new, specially customized models.

The brains behind the idea is Tieman ter Hoeven, who was working as a consultant in the automotive industry and learned about the reprocessing of old car parts: a sustainable idea which allows smaller entrepreneurs the freedom to not rely on large suppliers.

He started out like many entrepreneurs: spurred on by ambitious ideas in a loft in Amsterdam, planning every detail on his computer and making countless phone calls to the city council to put his plans into action, which he succeeded in doing in November 2016.

The factory, visited by Efe, is located in the heart of an industrial area of Amsterdam, a 30-minute walk from the city centre.

At a warehouse, a team of around 20 people work in a variety of roles, ranging from dismantling the old bikes to separating the reusable parts, to painting and removing rust, to putting on new handlebars, wheels and seats, and lastly the workers who deliver the remade bicycles to customers.

While the project is a commercial enterprise, its approach is focused on sustainability and socially responsible causes.

Sustainable because all of the abandoned bikes are technically owned by the city council, so by buying them at auction, the company helps fill the city’s coffers while also repurposing scrap metal.

Roetz’s socially conscious outlook is illustrated by its employees, a team made up of long-term unemployed people, many of whom are former alcohol or drug addicts, former convicts who struggle to find gainful employment and people who suffer from mental illnesses.

One of the employees in the factory was an electrician until he fell into a long term depression, but he says the atmosphere in the factory helped him to once again enjoy work and life.

Another man, trained as a car mechanic, had trouble recovering from the death of his wife. He turned to alcohol, and was soon sleeping on the streets.

Today, he works side by side with his new partner at the Roetz warehouse.

Up to 80% of the original broken bikes can be used again, depending on how well they were cared for in their first life, says one of the people in charge, and, where necessary, new parts are also used to complete the assembly.

Once the transformation is complete, these once rusty, discarded bikes look nothing like a hand-me-down.

After getting the Roetz treatment, the bicycles are made over in an elegant design, with warm colours and a range of accessories. Some even include a battery that converts them into electric bikes.

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