The claim: Electric scooters abandoned due to high cost of replacement batteries
Some social media users are claiming that fleets of electric scooters are being abandoned due to the high cost of replacing or safely disposing of their batteries.
A Nov. 30 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) features a screenshot of a tweet that includes an image of hundreds of seemingly abandoned yellow scooter bikes.
“Due to the batteries being so expensive to replace, electric scooters are abandoned because disposing of them any other way is dangerous and expensive,” reads the caption of the screenshotted tweet.
The image in the tweet is a screengrab of a Nov. 7 TikTok video that shows a broader view with thousands of abandoned scooters.
Other versions of the claim have spread widely on Twitter.
But the claim is false.
The “e-scooters” pictured in the posts are actually a model of electric bike made by the Chinese company Meituan and are part of the company’s ride-sharing business, according to the South China Morning Post. News reports from 2018 show the company abandoned the initiative due to a lack of demand for ride-share services in China, not the cost of replacing or safely disposing of the batteries.
Other ride-sharing companies have similarly abandoned fleets of bikes and electric vehicles due to a lack of demand, in what some news outlets called China’s “failed share-cycle scheme.”
USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who shared the claim for comment.
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E-scooters abandoned due to lack of ride-share demand
There is no evidence these scooters were abandoned due to dead batteries. This was simply a failed business venture.
Meituan announced in a 2018 earnings call that it was walking away from its bike-sharing and ride-sharing ventures due to a lack of ride-share demand.
The company’s investments in bike-sharing took a toll on profitability, with operation losses reportedly tripling in 2018.
Meituan acquired the electric ride-sharing company Mobike in April 2018. By September of that year, the company announced it was limiting the expansion of bicycle ride-share services.
Representatives for Meituan did not respond to a request for comment.
Other Chinese companies have had to similarly abandon fleets of electric vehicles and bikes due to a lack of demand and the over-saturation of the ride-share market. Some ride-share companies, like Ofo and YUUE, went bankrupt due to intense competition.
Thousands of ride-share bikes from these companies were placed in “graveyards” outside Shenyang, China, according to a 2021 report from Agence France-Presse.
Fact check: Photo of electric cars shows French car storage area, not result of battery failure
Abandoned scooters raise disposal concerns
Lithium-ion batteries, like those used in electric scooters and bikes, can pose a safety risk if not disposed of in the proper way. This is because the batteries contain toxic or corrosive materials, according to Tim Barnes, global recycling lead at Lime.
“The most inherent risk associated when disposing of e-scooter and e-bike batteries is the risk of a thermal event should the battery be compromised, either by external damage or submersion in water,” said Barnes in an email to USA TODAY. “Thermal events can be difficult to combat, as water can exacerbate the issue. Lithium-Ion batteries should be smothered in vermiculite or other similar material or completely submerged.”
The electric bike batteries pictured in the posts are not smothered or submerged in any materials.
While the risks associated with disposal can increase the costs of recycling, Barnes said there’s an easy and ecologically responsible way to offset that.
“In most cases, the cost is offset by the rare earth ‘black mass’ materials that can be extracted from end-of-life batteries,” Barnes said. “These black mass materials can be reintroduced into global battery supply chains.”
Multiple outlets have debunked similar claims about electric vehicles being abandoned due to the high cost of replacing their batteries. Those vehicles were also abandoned due to a lack of ride-share demand, not battery-associated costs or safety concerns.
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Our ruling: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that posts show electric scooters abandoned due to the high cost of replacement batteries. There is no evidence to support this claim. The bikes pictured were abandoned due to a lack of demand.
- The Atlantic, March 22, 2018, The Bike-Share Oversupply in China: Huge Piles of Abandoned and Broken Bicycles
- BASF Catalysts, July 13, 2021, Let’s Talk Recycling: What is “Black Mass”?
- BBC, May 20, 2018, Twitter post
- Bloomberg, Sept. 16, 2020, Whatever Happened to China’s Giant Piles of Abandoned Bicycles?
- Cal Recycle, accessed Dec. 9, Batteries
- CNET, April 3, 2018, This bike sharing company just got bought for $2.7 billion
- EV Steve, Sept. 5, TikTok video
- Forbes, Dec. 20, 2018, How China’s Bike-Sharing Startup Ofo Went From Tech Darling To Near Bankruptcy
- Lime, accessed Dec. 9, Who We Are
- Meituan, accessed Dec. 9, About Meituan
- PolitiFact, May 17, 2021, No, electric cars weren’t abandoned because batteries too costly to replace
- Reuters, July 13, 2021, Fact Check-Photo shows electric cars in China, not France
- South China Morning Post, Sept. 6, 2018, Meituan Dianping to halt ride-hailing expansion in China amid crisis at industry leader
- Straits Times, April 21, 2021, Graveyard of the bikes: Aerial photos of China’s failed share-cycle scheme show mountains of damaged bikes
- Tech Crunch, Nov. 23, 2018, Meituan, China’s ‘everything app,’ walks away from bike sharing and ride hailing
- Tech Xplore, April 21, 2021, Graveyard of the bikes: China’s failed share-cycle
- Tim Barnes, Dec. 8, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- South China Morning Post (YouTube), Aug. 28, 2018, Drone footage shows thousands of bicycles abandoned in China as bike sharing reaches saturation scheme from above
- AFP News Agency (YouTube), April 21, 2021, Sprawling bike graveyard from China’s failed share-cycle scheme | AFP
- South China Morning Post, March 13, 2020, Meituan Dianping sees surge in bike-sharing, but don’t call it a comeback