Like most things in life, tennis balls have a shelf life and need to go somewhere when they aren’t useful anymore. As a tennis player, you will know that tennis balls only last for a couple of matches before they lose their bounce and become unplayable. With hundreds of millions of balls produced yearly, you might wonder, “Where do tennis balls go?”
Over 300 million tennis are produced each year, with a large majority ending up in landfills worldwide. Today many tennis ball recycling companies and their partners recycle old tennis balls and use the recycled rubber to build new tennis courts and in a host of other applications.
About 125 million used tennis balls are thrown away annually in the United States. That’s the equivalent of 20 million cubic feet of landfill space filled with almost non-biodegradable rubber trash, which produces 20 million metric tons of methane. The majority of these balls still manage to land up in landfills despite efforts by tennis ball recycling organizations.
Where Do Tennis Balls Go?
The average tennis ball takes over 400 years to decompose. Hundreds of millions of tennis balls are produced yearly and must go somewhere when they become unplayable. Tennis balls mostly end up in a landfill, and most people aren’t aware that these beloved yellow balls of fuzziness are an environmental disaster.
Luckily, some forward-thinking organizations and partners have implemented some systems that reduce the rubber waste that fills the landfills by recycling the rubber and using it to build rubber tennis courts, using it as equestrian turf and garden mulch, and even stucco.
In recent years, the need to recycle tennis balls has become a focus of many organizations and tennis federations, as it’s an environmental issue that needs solutions.
Trashed Tennis Balls End Up In Landfills
Even though there has been a conscious shift in the tennis community regarding recycling old tennis balls, millions of old tennis balls are still being trashed. These trashed tennis balls go straight to the nearest landfill, polluting our environment for hundreds of years.
As recycling becomes the norm among tennis players, tennis federations, and the general public, we will hopefully see a drastic change in landfill tennis ball numbers.
Tennis Ball Recycling Companies
People have become creative in using old tennis balls innovatively; here are a few examples of how innovative people and organizations are recycling and re-using soon-to-be-discarded tennis balls before they reach the over-populated landfills.
To ensure that the game of tennis reduces its mark on the environment, many innovative companies recycle old tennis balls. The following organizations are part of the tennis ball recycling movement:
The tennis ball recycling organization, recycleballs.org has saved over 9 million used tennis balls from US landfills. RecycleBalls is an initiative driven by national players across the US that focuses on recycling used tennis balls before using them in innovative ways, such as:
- Building tennis ball courts in partnership with US Open court suppliers Laykold from recycled tennis balls
- Stucco replacement products at half the cost price
- Equestrian turf
- Natural pebble rubber mulch
- Playground turf
- Rubber surfacing
A partner network collects used tennis balls through the organization’s patented QuickShip bin (recycling bins at tennis facilities) that provide pre-paid shipping and a tax donation for every ball donated.
The collected balls felt are removed by an innovative machine in their processing plant in South Burlington that creates a crumb rubber product called Green Gold, which is then applied in various fields. Some recycled balls are sold to dog owners on eBay as “No Trash” balls, which can be recycled back to the RecycleBalls at no cost.
The manufacturers of the Mini Green Machine, which repressurizes used tennis balls for longer play, reBounces, have been recycling used tennis balls since 2008. In a partnership with Laykold and Ace Surfaces, they collect used tennis balls and recycle them into usable rubber before Laykold manufactures it into usable court material and Ace Surfaces install it.
Recycaball is an organization in the United Kingdom that pays individuals and tennis clubs cash for used tennis balls before trying to repressurize the ones that can be used for playing tennis again. The balls that don’t make it back onto the court are donated to various charities.
Operation Yellow Ball
Operation Yellow Ball is an organization in France that recycles old tennis balls before converting them into sports floors by mixing the rubber aggregates with resin, to be used in places such as:
- Children’s Hospitals
- Rehabilitation Centers
- Medical-Educational Centers
- Motor Education Institutes
Sport Surface Companies
Laykold is an industry leader in sports surfaces and was appointed by the US Open in 2020 as the tournament’s new court supplier. In a partnership between Laykold, RecycleBalls (partnered by Wilson), the US Open, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, used tennis balls are recycled and used in tennis court designs, for example:
- The Ella Fitzgerald Playground Court in Kissena Corridor Park, New York (Community court.)
Laykold has developed new hybrid tennis courts that are more durable, offering better shock absorption (not as hard on the player’s body), using around 10,000 recycled tennis balls in typical construction.
Laykold Masters shock pad systems are incorporated into new and existing court designs using 3,000+ recycled tennis balls for up to 21% force reduction. These shock pad systems are coated with high-quality Laykold acrylics to ensure Pace Precision, consistent bounce, and reliable footing.
Used tennis balls don’t always make it to a landfill. Tennis clubs often donate used balls to retirement homes, which are used in physiotherapy sessions with the seniors and attached to walkers for movement-impaired residents.
Police Dog Training Units And ASPCA
Old tennis balls are often donated as toys to our furry friends found in police dog training units and ASPCA.
Tennis Ball Products
Some of the throw-away old tennis balls are used by innovative designers to create new products. Take MANIkordstudio on Etsy, which uses used tennis balls and turns them into wallets, protective cellphone sleeves, keychains, ChapStick holders, business card sleeves, and change holders.
The environmental impact of tennis as a sport is huge. The amount of tennis balls that ends up in landfills are shocking considering that they take 400 years to degrade. Luckily, there are companies and organizations that have tennis ball recycling initiatives in place, to try and prevent our landfills filling up with our old yellowish tennis balls.
If you are a tennis player, ensure you do your part for the environment, and donate all old tennis balls to these organizations via your club.