Tennis Balls to Green Gold09/13/2022 04:03PM ● By Jessica Wilmes
Over the centuries, tennis balls have been made from materials like cork, wool, pine wood, rope, flannel, and eventually rubber. However, it wasn’t until 1972 that the tennis ball adopted its famous neon yellow covering after an International Tennis Federation (ITF) study showed yellow tennis balls were easier to see on TV screens.
Today, modern tennis balls are manufactured as one-time use products as the average tennis ball is used for one to four weeks at a recreational level and one to three hours at a competitive level, according to Tennis Creative.
Today, tennis balls are made up of three main layers including a rubber core, a latex rubber glue layer and felt or wool on the outside, which collectively can take 400 years to decompose. With an estimated 125 million balls going into landfills each year in the United States alone, that adds up to an additional 20,000 metric tons of methane emissions annually.
The material above is called Recycleballs "Green Gold" and is used as the perfect material/ solution to make horse riding arenas safer.
While the stats are grim, the future isn’t. A
Burlington, VT organization called Recycle
Balls is making moves to rewrite the tennis ball narrative. Founded five years ago, Recycle
Balls is on a mission to collect and repurpose
tennis balls from around the country.
It started when Derrick Senior, a tennis player for 20 years and former branding and marketing expert, was on the court watching the amount of balls going into the trash.
“I was playing with friends one day and realized we are wasting so many balls, especially in this country more than others,” recalls Derrick. “I thought, ‘this is a serious problem for tennis’.”
As a problem solver, he immediately got to work looking for a solution to this tennis ball issue. Bringing on interns to research manufacturers and methods of recycling, the team was able to put together a unique machine, known as “The Play It Green Machine” that is able to remove the felt from tennis balls and break down the rubber for alternative uses at 10,000 balls per hour.
“At that rate, Recycle Balls could take care of all the balls in the country, said Derrick, right there at the facility in Burlington.”
From tennis courts to playground turf to rubber sidewalks and beyond, the organization refers to the micronized tennis ball rubber as “Green Gold”. Roughly 10,000 tennis balls can become a new tennis court, and anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 tennis balls can be used for equestrian horse footing arenas.
Utilizing Derrick's 30 plus years of branding and marketing on a national scale, he’s helped get Recycle Balls in 48 US states and in Canada with now, more than 5,000 players and facilities directly involved.
The process is simple. Recycle Balls sends collection bins to sponsors, or ‘champions’ as they are sometimes called, who serve as liaisons between a facility and the organization. Each bin is inclusive with a prepaid UPS shipping label and as players throw out balls they go in the bin instead of the trash. Once a bin is full, it’s shipped to the recycling facility in Burlington.
“Almost every facility that starts with us stays with us,” said Derrick. “Players universally want to recycle.”
All Recycleballs recycling bins come with a prepaid UPS shipping label making the recycling process very user-friendly. These bins have been placed in all 48 contiguous states.
Partnering with major tennis companies Wilson and Lakehold has been strategic to spreading the word about Recycle Balls and getting the Green Gold utilized in tennis court development.
“It takes a level of passion to go green,” said Derrick. “These companies really embody what we’re about and we are lucky to be working with them.”
Starting on a shoestring budget, the organization has done a lot in a short amount of time and hopes to expand further and get more commitment from the industry as a whole.
“This is just a starting point; we have the capacity, facilities, and ability to scale to a much larger level and solve this problem for all players,” said Derrick.
As countries around the globe have been reaching out with interest, Derrick is hopeful the Recycle Balls brand and idea will eventually cross more international borders.
“We’ve received an enormous amount of interest from other countries,” he said. “We have patents on the equipment, the bins and the system, we just don’t have the manpower and the resources to expand today.”
To get involved, Sponsors or Champions fill out an application form online and pay a one- time fee of $600 to help with the basic costs. The program is available on a small or large scale, for individuals and facilities alike, so even the little guys can ace a large problem.
“I’m really proud of the fact that little Burlington, Vermont can solve a national problem,” says Derrick.
For more information or to get involved visit the website at www.recycleballs.org.