What To Do With Old Motorcycle Helmets

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Key Takeaways

  • Helmets need to be replaced every five years or after an accident.
  • Helmets can’t be recycled and would need to be thrown away with the regular garbage.
  • Emergency service departments will sometimes accept them as donations for training.

Your motorcycle helmet is supposed to be replaced every five years or after any crash. This begs the question of what to do with your old motorcycle helmets.

The obvious answer is to dispose of them, but there are also creative and constructive things you can do with your old helmet once they need replacement. You can also donate used helmets and put them to good use.

I’ve gone through a couple of sets of helmets over the years, either because they required replacement or because I wanted a change of pace. What to do with a helmet I no longer use has always been a question for me.

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What To Do With Old Motorcycle Helmets

Motorcycle helmets are an essential piece of motorcycling gear. I would argue that your helmet is just as important as the motorcycle itself. A helmet serves many purposes, the main of which is to protect your head in case of an accident.

To ensure the protective quality of the helmet is why you want to replace them every five years or after any accident. Motorcycle helmets are manufactured to certain specifications, which are subject to change, and the materials they use can degrade over time, so you want to replace them with regularity.

The helmet specifications are either DOT, ECE, or Snell. These are different governing bodies and certifications that a helmet can have. DOT stands for the Department of Transportations, ECE is for the Economic Commission of Europe, and Snell is a certification provided by Snell Memorial Foundation.

These certifications change over time to be more rigorous, so it is a good idea to update your helmet regularly to ensure that you have the best protection available.

All helmets are constructed via similar means. The exterior is called the shell and is usually made of polycarbonate, fiberglass, or kevlar. Inside the shell is the impact-absorbing layer made of expanded polystyrene foam. The inner lining, cheek pads, and restraint system finish off the helmet's construction. The foam layer is the primary consideration for replacing your helmet every five years. Over the years, it can degrade and get brittle, reducing its ability to absorb impacts. That said, you should not sell your old helmets or hold onto them as a backup to ensure that they protect your head as much as possible should you be involved in an accident.

Now that we know why we need to replace our helmets, we must know what to do with them. Below I will outline a few options you have to dispose of your helmet.

Dispose of Your Helmet

In an ideal world, you could recycle your helmet. After all, most of your helmet’s component pieces are recyclable. Unfortunately, because it is constructed of mixed materials, it cannot be recycled.

If you put your helmet in the recycling bin, it will be taken to the recycling plant, and because the materials can’t be easily separated, they would end up in the landfill anyway. If you’re only interested in disposing of your helmet, it’s best to send it to the garbage, to begin with, as it can’t be recycled.

If you dispose of your helmet in the garbage, cut the strap on it. Cutting the straps ensures that they can’t be further used. Much like with children’s car seats, when you dispose of them, you don’t want someone to try and re-use them and expose themselves to potential harm.

Donate Your Helmet

Even though your helmet shouldn’t continue being used after five years, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still useful. There are some surprising places you can donate your helmet to continue to be useful.

Your local emergency services are the most common places you can contact to see if they accept donated helmets.  Fire, police, and paramedics often accept donated helmets for training exercises. They use them in crash response training, which helps them to understand how to attend to injured riders and safely move them or take off their helmet if needed.

Likewise, there are several non-profits committed to rider safety and training. You can contact any local foundations and see if they accept helmets for training use, much like the emergency services mentioned above.

Creative Uses for Your Retired Helmet

While you can’t recycle your helmet through a recycling program, there are still fun and creative ways you can recycle the helmet directly. Doing so requires a bit of creativity and thinking outside the box, but it can save the helmet from the landfill while providing a unique opportunity to express yourself.

Many riders like to hold on to their old helmets. After all, your helmet is with you on every ride; if you have it for five years, that's a lot of memories. If you have a shop or a man-cave setup, you can devote some space to collecting your helmets. These showcase your collection over the years and can be an excellent way to look back and remember all the epic rides you’ve had.

If you have a kid, I’m sure they think your helmet is the coolest and want to be just like you with your motorcycle. When it’s time for you to retire your helmet, you can pass it down to your child to play dress up.

If you’re a more curious-minded rider, you can test the limits of your helmet through your own tests. You can (safely) attempt to destroy it and see how much force it can take. Likewise, you can take it apart and see the different layers for yourself firsthand. A bisected helmet would make for a unique talking piece in a shop.

There are some more out-there creative options to upcycle your helmet on the internet. A few that I found through my searches included turning your helmet into a unique popcorn bowl. While this requires the helmet to be thoroughly cleaned and the porous inside sealed, it would undoubtedly make for a unique popcorn bowl.

Similarly, some people turn them into plant potters and any number of other creative uses for them. So if you’re against throwing out your helmet and can’t find someplace to accept it as a donation, do a bit of searching on the internet and see if there are any fun ways you can find to upcycle your helmet. You will be surprised by all the ways you can get creative with an old helmet.