Lime tackles drunk scootering head on
photograpy by Kris Krug

Researchers at North Carolina University conducted a life cycle assessment that tracked the emissions of e-scooters from build to disposal. The study reportedly added up emissions during “manufacturing, shipping, charging, collecting, and disposing of scooters.”

Results revealed that dockless scooters might not be that climate-friendly. In fact, they produce more greenhouse-gas emissions than an electric bike, an electric moped, a bus with high ridership, and a bicycle. This might come as a surprise, as several e-scooter companies push their eco-friendly advantages.

Climate-Friendly Claims

Despite recent safety-related controversies prompting some cities to ban e-scooters, they have grown in popularity. Well-known brands like Bird and Lime tout being climate-friendly on their websites. Bird, for instance, claims riders can “cruise past traffic and cut back on CO2 emissions—one ride at a time.” Meanwhile, Lime declares that its scooters are “cleaner and less expensive than a rideshare.”

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Dockless scooters operate via a small electric motor. They accommodate a single rider, who stands on a deck and propels short distances around an urban area. After arriving at a destination, a user can leave the scooter for someone else to use, or for a company to pick up for charging. This vehicle sharing is also meant to help cut down on emissions.

The study showed the vehicles only produce about half of the emissions of a standard passenger car. The scooters generate about 200 grams of CO2 per mile compared to an automobile’s 415 grams.

Plus, a survey of North Carolina-based riders revealed, “only 34% would have otherwise used a personal car or ride-sharing service. Nearly half would have biked or walked, 11% would have taken the bus, and 7% would have simply skipped the trip.”

Unfortunately, scooter rides create more greenhouse gases than these transportation alternatives, more than two-thirds of the time. This spike in emissions outweighs any savings from the forfeited car rides, Jeremiah Johnson, a co-author of the study reportedly said.

Scooters Have a Short Life Span

Another concern that researchers raised is that e-scooters have a short operational life span. Scientists looked at previous studies that assessed the environmental impact of each of the scooter’s parts. They also factored in the electricity used to charge them.

Ultimately, the team concluded that about half of the emissions hail from raw materials and the manufacturing process. However, figuring out what the emissions translate to per-mile depends on how long the scooters last.

It seems users are ditching scooters and even tossing them into lakes, according to a Slate report. Many business owners are frustrated about a large number of abandoned scooters near their sites. As The Burn-In reported, a San Diego startup launched a scooter removal service as a means of getting the abandoned vehicles off the streets.

Furthermore, various reports show that many scooters are lasting only days or months due to heavy wear and tear. This early scooter death compounds the abandoned vehicle problem.

Plus, about 43 percent of the scooter’s total life cycle emissions come from vehicles that drive around cities to collect the inoperable scooters. Users leave them in yards, on sidewalks, and on city streets. Upon retrieval, collectors drive further to take the scooters to a charging station or another new rider pick up point.

Lime addressed this issue by pledging to invest in clean electricity and renewable energy. This action would offset carbon emissions produced by its scooter collection fleet. The commitment to reducing the company’s carbon footprint comes as part of its Lime Green initiative.

Variables and Suggestions

While most scooters are supposed to be picked up every night for recharging, it is not clear if this is actually happening. Any delay in collection frequency would lower the vehicles’ carbon output.

Fortunately, the North Carolina study offered suggestions for reducing e-scooter CO2 emissions. They include using hybrid or electric vehicles to retrieve the scooters, finding a way to decrease the distance between collection and drop-off locations, gathering scooters only when the batteries are low, and increasing the amount of recyclable materials in the build process.

Above all, if manufacturers could improve designs to lengthen the life span of e-scooters, to say, a couple of years instead of a few months, the study estimates that the change could reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent per mile.

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