To be honest, I’ve never given much thought into what happens to tennis balls once they’re no longer usable.
Fortunately, I don’t have many.
I play tennis regularly on Saturdays with a group, and one person is responsible for the balls each week.
Any tennis balls I do have, I generally keep them in the garage or put in a bag full of beach toys (as a tennis ball is fine for throw and catch with my daughter. Tennis balls can float on water which is great for playing in the sea)
Unfortunately, some I end up losing if I hit a bad lob and the ball sails out of the court never to be seen again 🙂
However, I was reading an article the other day and I was amazed at how many tennis balls end up on the rubbish heap.
In US alone, 100 million tennis balls end up in landfill…
Staggering, when you think about it.
Fortunately, over the past few years, some countries have really stepped up efforts into recycling tennis balls.
Chart – Tennis Ball Recycling (2020) USA vs France
Here’s a chart comparing the USA vs France as of 2020 (one is certainly doing better than the other at the moment!)
What are tennis balls made of?
Tennis balls consist of a rubber core, which is hollow and encased with a felt cover. There’s also a small amount of cement that holds the outside felt together.
It’s the pressurized air inside the rubber core which makes the tennis balls bounce.
Are tennis balls biodegradable? Are they bad for the environment?
Unfortunately, tennis balls are not biodegradable so they are bad for the environment.
Although natural rubber by itself is biodegradable, albeit very slowly (around 100 years), the felt coating and cement are not biodegradable so the tennis ball will just sit in landfill for many years. Worse still, vast tonnes of methane are released over time which adds to global warming.
It is thought that tennis balls can take a staggering 400 years to decompose!
Can tennis balls be recycled?
Although you can’t recycle tennis balls in your standard bin collection from your home, there are some companies out there who have invested time and money into providing a solution:
In the US, the non-profit organization RecycleBalls are one of the leading companies in tennis ball recycling.
Since 2017, they have recycled 2,850,000 tennis balls, placing 12000 recycle bins court-side. They also have 1500 partners who they’re working with on this project which is a great way to help this idea spread throughout the country.
Project Green Ball take old tennis balls and converts them into ball-based turf, for use as cushioned mats on tennis court surfaces.
In the UK, Recycle Tennis Balls have the aim of sending old tennis balls to a dog charity or rescue homes. Once you have collected around 100 balls you can post them for free to the company itself, or in person to the dog charity or rescue home.
There’s also Recycaball who will buy your old balls from you at 25p a ball (you post them yourself). Alternatively, you send them in bulk in batches of 250, in one of their reusable sacks, and they will give you £50 and pay for shipping costs. However, they stipulate that the tennis balls should not be in a terrible condition i.e completely worn down or discoloured.
France seems to be ahead of the curve in terms of tennis ball recycling.
Operation Balle Jaune has been in action since 2009, and during this time they have converted old tennis balls to form 40 sports floors. Old tennis balls can be collected at tennis clubs, and during the Tour de France which attracts a huge number of spectators.
Can you recycle tennis ball containers?
Some can be recycled in your plastic curbside collection. The tennis ball manufacturer Penn is doing some great things to try and make tennis ball production greener. Their canisters are made from recyclable materials and you can put used containers in with your plastic bottles and cartons for collection.
When do tennis balls need to be recycled?
There are a couple of little tests you can do with a tennis ball to see if it’s had its day and needs to be discarded.
- Compare the bounce between the older ball and a new one. If the bounce is markedly different, it’s probably time to get rid.
- Squeeze the tennis ball. New tennis balls have very little ‘give’ when you squeeze them as they are full of pressurized air. Older balls will feel a lot softer when you squeeze them, and if this happens it’s also a sign you should replace them.
- Look at the felt on the ball. If it looks very worn, it’s probably time to replace it.
Can you make them last longer?
The only way to make tennis balls last longer is to stop them losing pressure so quickly.
One inventor has come up with a product called Pressureball, which should increase the amount of time you can use a group of tennis balls, that is, until the felt wears out.
There’s also a product called reBounces which can repressurize tennis balls,
What can you do with old tennis balls (apart from recycling)?
If you’d rather put your old tennis balls to some other use, here are some creative ways to use them around the home (some of which are also green and better for the environment)
- Put them in the toilet cistern. You will use less water every time you flush.
- Put them in the tumble dryer. It will decrease the drying time. The tennis ball will also collect any bits of hair that might be on your clothes.
- Give yourself a massage. I use a tennis ball if I have any shoulder or back pain after playing tennis. It’s a great way to work the muscle and release any tension.
- Protect your floor. Cut an ‘X’ into 4 tennis balls and put them on the ends of any chair legs. It will stop any marks appearing on the floor.
- Remove scuff marks. Who’d have thought tennis balls have some cleaning properties too? You can attach a ball to the end of a broom and use it to remove marks from any hard floor. I have to admit, I haven’t tried this so I’m not sure how effective it is. Worth a try though!
- Open jars. Sometimes it can be so frustrating trying to open a jar. If you cut a tennis ball in half, you can use it to open those troublesome lids as it gives you a lot more grip.
- Make table corners safe. If you have any toddlers that are hitting their heads on table corners, a tennis ball is a great way to attach to these sharper edges.
- Use one as piggy bank. Just cut a slit in the tennis ball and use it to store your loose change
- Protect padlocks. If you have an outside padlock to keep your garden or shed secure, chances are it can weather and rust over time. By putting a tennis ball over the lock, you can protect it from the elements.
- Use one as a Christmas decoration. If you’re a tennis mad household, you can modify a tennis ball and attach it to the tree.
- Use it as a toy with your dog. Tennis balls are great fun for dogs, but you should use with caution as they can be bad for their teeth and the felt can pose a choking risk. However, if you wrap the tennis ball in some fabric, it can make a great toy for your canine friend.
- Use them as packing material. I hate those polystyrene pieces of foam which seem to go everywhere when a fragile package arrives. Use some old tennis balls instead (although make sure they truly are in an awful condition, as I think it’s better to recycle them instead)