Environmentalists have several things that cause them to lose sleep at night: deforestation, overpopulation, melting of polar ice caps, tennis balls. Wait, what?
That’s right. With the US Open currently taking place in Flushing Meadows, environmentalists want to remind the world that tennis balls are a scourge on our planet.
“Tennis balls, like a lot of objects, are made to be indestructible, which means they’re very resistant to mechanical processing,” Nickolas J. Themelis, director of Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center told CBS News. “But do you take a useful object that lasts forever and say people shouldn’t use it because it lasts forever? That’s nonsense.”
330 million balls are manufactured worldwide each year. A Grand Slam event like the US Open uses nearly 100,000 balls during the tournament.
All of those tennis balls, once their usefulness has ended, will at some point be discarded.
“Anyone who would say you shouldn’t play tennis because of the tennis balls is misinformed,” said Jason Quinn, director of Colorado State University’s Sustainability Research Laboratory. “In terms of the impact, it’s a blip on the radar. … And there are things you can do to reuse and repurpose tennis balls to lessen the impact.”
While grinding them down to create new products is one solution, that would require a mass collection effort to make much of a difference. Most tennis balls are just thrown in the garbage and end up in a landfill. Companies like RecycleBalls are trying, but even they say they will only collect 3 million tennis balls this year.
There is also the problem of completely removing the felt from each ball because the felt – a blended combination of wool and nylon – cannot be recycled.
Oh, and did we mention deforestation? Because the best tennis balls are made out of virgin rubber, often coming from trees in the Amazon.
So there’s that too.