Wheels of fortune
|November 18th, 2016|
|in:||Humans, Nature, Economy, Technology|
|tags:||cardboard bicycles, cardboard technologies, environment, social impact|
Cardboard Technologies began as a garage start-up in Israel about nine years ago when Elmish’s childhood friend Izhar Gafni got to work thinking about technology that could transform cardboard into a durable raw material that can be used for producing bicycles en masse.
The first implementation of the material was a cardboard bicycle. Presented to the world in 2013 to much excitement, the bike demonstrated the durability that could be achieved with cardboard.
Cardboard Technologies have spent the last three years speaking with potential partners and honing the technology to develop their first three products: the cardboard bike, the cardboard balance bike (for kids learning to ride) and the cardboard wheelchair.
Elmish says many people have asked ‚what’s taking so long?‘
The team didn’t want to reduce the quality of their product by giving in to the pressure to produce their first product quickly. Thankfully their investors and shareholders have been supportive.
Now finally Cardboard Technologies are just about ready to take their products to market.
“The technology is very strong,” says Elmish. “We have over 200 patents in this field for enhancing off-the-shelf cardboard to make it into a strong raw material.”
“What we are doing today is building prototypes of products we think are essential to the market, to the people. Then we turn the prototypes into a complete product and do the testing to show that these products are strong and durable enough to be on the market.”
Bicycles and wheelchairs are simply the first implementation of what they hope will be a wide range of solutions using the recyclable, durable cardboard material.
The innovation comes backed by a strong business model that matches environmental care and social responsibility with profitability.
From the material used to the humans involved – both producers and users – it is clear that great care has been taken to be socially and environmentally responsible without compromising the business’s viability.
The environmental impact of Cardboard Technology’s work is both thoughtful and broad.
In its simplest form, they’re offering an affordable way to avoid CO2 emissions and encourage recycling by producing a bike that costs approximately one quarter of the price of an average metal bike.
Cardboard Technologies also has a vision to be part of bike-sharing programs in cities across the world. They have already been in talks with local governments as well as companies about the possibility of having companies purchase the affordable bikes and donate them to social projects, made affordable by the generous tax break afforded to recyclable materials and the branding an PR opportunities.
As for producing the bikes and wheelchairs, the recyclable materials used in their products – cardboard and plastic bottles – can be found almost anywhere. This contributes to waste reduction.
But further than that, “the materials that we use can be recycled again and again and again, and turned into something else”, says Elmish.
While the products have been designed and tested to run without maintenance – no lubrication needed, or new parts – for 3-5 years, when they do finally wear out, the materials won’t end up in a rubbish dump: they can be turned into something else.
This is particularly notable because Cardboard Technologies is interested in having the bicycles used in social projects, including in third world countries. They want to make sure that the products they send out into the world won’t end up costing the environment at the other end.
Far-reaching social impact
Elmish sees the scope of the company’s social impact running the gamut of users from elderly people in Japan to children in sub-Saharan Africa, and including production line workers as well by creating local production opportunities for the aged and under-employed.
“Because we grew up in a kibbutz, because we are socialist since early education, we designed the production and assembly line to employ senior citizens, handicapped or under-employed populations, so that when we bring the production line to any continent, any country, actually what we do is we create new workplaces and new industry.”
But they’re also interested in solving culturally specific challenges.
Elmish explains that in Japan, which has a vast aging population, the national health system provides a wheelchair for every aging person who needs one. However, because of the Japanese custom of separating footwear for indoor or outdoor use, people don’t want to bring their dirty wheelchairs inside, leaving them to choose between using their wheelchair inside or outside.
“And we’ve learned that in Japan the cost of these wheelchairs can range between $300-350 and even more,” says Elmish, making it unaffordable for the state to provide two wheelchairs for every person who needs one.
However, cardboard wheelchairs, at a B2B cost of around $49 per unit, could make separate wheelchairs for indoor and outdoor use a reality.
If healthcare companies want to purchase the wheelchairs, the impact of being able to brand them and recycling tax breaks should make it possible for companies to provide these wheelchairs to the elderly free of charge, says Elmish.
Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3
It’s hard to imagine cardboard vehicles or wheelchairs standing up to the elements. But the company has put their products through rigorous testing and is confident in the results.
“We had to throw the bikes into the sea, we surfed waves with them, and we take the parts that we make and put them into a dishwasher for hours for testing,” says Elmish. As it turns out, the cardboard is water resistant.
But water isn’t the only concern. “We have testing machinery in our development labs and it runs these products through impossible tests. For example, the balance bike for kids is being bounced by a piston with 140 kilograms for eight constant hours.”
This ensures that when a parent is showing their child how to use the bike, they can put their full weight on it.
So where to start?
Elmish says the balance bike will be their first product on the market, spreading the company’s environmentally-friendly message.
“That’s one of the reasons we chose the balance bike first – because we think that you need to educate a new layer of the population on, ‘what is recycling? Why is it important?’”
“There’s a story in every box about where this bike’s cardboard came from and the impact of using this material over others that are not so environmentally friendly. There are so many ways to use it as a tool for learning about recycling.”
As for the future, Cardboard Technologies wants to get its first products to market.
But Elmish says their long-term hope is to be able to produce housing relief in disaster situations, by developing a machine that can produce walls and roofs from the cardboard material.
“Then we could ship this machine to anywhere it’s needed.”
Cardboard Technologies continues to search for the right partners and investors, to expand and establish the production facilities worldwide.
With a solid vision of the future, we look forward to seeing where they go next.