The Australian Open is about to wind up and by the time the champs hold their trophies aloft in glory, they and their opponents will have served, volleyed and backhanded their way through 48,000 tennis balls.
At the Australian Open the used balls are sold on site, after which some will gather dust as souvenirs and others will be belted around club courts and backyards. Many will be chased down by inexhaustible dogs and a few will land on roofs and clog up drainpipes. But there are many other uses for old tennis balls.
An old favourite is to cut out small holes and slip the tennis balls over the legs of chairs to stop them damaging delicate floors (or to reduce noise). The same can be done with the legs of walkers, to make them easier to slide over smooth surfaces.
Need a back massage? Place a tennis ball on the floor, lie top of it and roll around to ease those cramped muscles. Or squeeze a ball regularly to strengthen your grip. Speaking of grip, cut a tennis ball in two along its seams and the resulting pieces will let you get a better grip when opening jars. Tennis balls have even been used to construct furniture.
Then what? Australia imports more than 14 million tennis balls each year, and there are only so many chair legs that need tennis balls stuck on their ends. The fate of most tennis balls that have lost their bounce is to end up in landfill or be left to slowly disintegrate in backyards and parks around the country. There are better options.
Tennis balls are mostly made up of rubber with some wool or nylon felt on the surface. They are recyclable and can be ground up and used to make rubber flooring. US non-profit Green Ball is working on a range of durable uses for old tennis balls including, fittingly, making tennis courts. Green Ball is also investigating if intact tennis balls can be incorporated into concrete slabs and walls. Even better, tennis balls can be re-pressurised to give them back their bounce, extending their useful lives and reducing the need for new balls.
Neither of these options appear to be available in Australia at present, although Tennis Victoria has explored ball recycling in the past. So, until some sustainably-minded entrepreneurs take us down the re-pressurising and recycling paths, it’s back to thinking up more novel uses for old tennis balls.
Recycling for sports clubs and recreational centres
While Ecocycle doesn’t recycle old tennis balls, we do recycle lighting, batteries and e-waste, which are all too common at the Australian Open as well as sports clubs and recreational centres.