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RecycleBalls: Repurposing Used Tennis Balls

There has been so much going on in the Tennis World this summer that the following Q&A with Derrick Senior kept getting pushed down in my inbox. My apologies to Derrick and RecycleBalls! 

If you have been looking for an effective way to repurpose all your used tennis balls (besides giving them to your dog!), please read on!

What is RecycleBalls?

  • We are a simple and fast spreading (growing) Collection solution
    • We are the first organization in U.S. tennis history with a large scale collection solution for all played tennis balls in this country.  We provide simple and effective cost free programs to our partners that places our unique recycling bins on tennis courts and ensures these balls stay out of US landfills.
  • We are a unique Recycling solution
    • We invested nearly two years in full R&D to develop and install a one of a kind PLAY IT GREEN  machine that removes 99% of the felt from tennis balls. The resulting crumb rubber material called GREEN GOLD is used in new tennis courts and other products.
  • We are a nationwide network of partners spreading a message that is Changing Habits
    • We are giving an ever increasing number of tennis players/partners a way to be part of the solution and send a message that trashing tennis balls is no longer acceptable in the USA.

Why did you start it? 

  • I am an avid tennis player and play 3-5 times a week. In 2015 after a 1.5 hour match (for which Ihad opened a new can of tennis balls),  I was about to trash our balls when it struck me how wasteful this must be nationwide.  

  • After conducting some research, I discovered this was a significant environmental problem.

What is your involvement in tennis? Why did you choose tennis balls as opposed to other recyclable items?

  • In late 2016, in the midst of selling my company and retiring, I, along with my son, decided to start a nonprofit and attempt to solve a significant national problem. Given extensive manufacturing, marketing and branding experience, I created a now patented bin solution and a simple scalable program. More information is available here on our About page.

  • Tennis is like a religion to me and besides riding my bicycle the only other sport I engage in. I wanted to give back to the sport I love.

What do you do with the recycled tennis balls?

  • Our collected tennis balls are or are slated for being ground up, separated into their components and used for a variety of applications.

    • Laykold Tennis Courts
    • Horse Footing for stables and riding arenas (in test)
    • One Coat Stucco Replacement
    • Natural Pebble Rubber Mulch
    • Rubberform Sign Bases
    • In Development: Queen City Sports Shoes and a Clothing Line
    • Doggie balls
  • How many balls go into a tennis court? About 10,000
  • How many balls go into a horse arena – hose turf? About 100,000

How will you gauge whether or not your efforts are successful?

  • I think we are successful at the moment.
  • Our goal is to have 20 million balls recycled and reused over the next 3 years
  • I think we will be successful once we  install a National Executive Director and Board of Directors and finally make this initiative 100-percent financially sustainable. This should happen in the next year.

How much does it cost for a facility to have one of your recycling bins? How do they get one?

  • Recyleballs network partners are adopting a scalable collection solution and spreading the word. Tennis players universally love recycling their tennis balls. 
  • RecycleBalls offers a cost-effective solution for partner facilities and organizations by providing specialized bins for the collection of tennis balls at clubs and facilities nationwide. These bins are placed directly on tennis courts, giving players a convenient way to be part of the solution.
  • Prepaid UPS shipping labels make it convenient for bins to be shipped to our facility in Vermont.  Recycleballs also offers to email shipping labels to those who have boxes of tennis balls already boxed and ready to go.
  • Tennis balls are ground up in the newly installed “Play it Green” machine and the felt is separated from the rubber. We call the rubber crumb generated,GREEN GOLD.”
  • GREEN GOLD is used in the construction of tennis courts and a wide variety of green products.

How are you supporting the effort financially?

  • Currently our recycling line (the PLAY IT GREEN machine) represents a net expense. Given new partners and products, this is changing. 
  • The investment we have made in this new first-of-its-kind, custom built recycling line, holds promise that with increased production and further product R&D, this will pay for itself and fund much of this initiative – and allow us to offer cost-free programs permanently.
  • This non profit was privately seeded by the generosity of a few who have donated time and treasure. 
  • A part of our ongoing operations to date are being generously supported by Wilson Sporting Goods – our key sponsor and partner, along with donations and the sales of some balls as recyclable “no trash” dog balls. We have also been able to leverage considerable volunteer time and keep our expenses very low.

What are your plans for expansion/growth?

  • We will be putting together a 3 year strategic plan in 2020. Our goal is to recycle all balls in the USA.
  • Our infrastructure will easily allow us to recycle and reuse 20 million tennis balls. 

Do you have Ambassadors for the program? How does one become an Ambassador?

  • Yes we have had a number of ambassadors/young volunteers. Just a few of these are listed below and taken from our facebook page. We do not yet have a formal program to inspire more kids. Perhaps someone with experience may help us put this together. We are continually getting requests from youth.
    • Katherine Ho: Thank you Katherine Ho! Katherine is a graduating high school student in Naperville, Illinois who has been an amazing Recycleballs Champion for nearly two years. She took the initiative to bring tennis ball recycling programs to both her high school and a large tennis facility in her community. Awesome work, Katherine, and best of luck at college!
    • Jason Mandel is a rising tennis player student at Beverly Hills High School in California. Jason has established partners with several facilities and provided them with our QUICKSHIP program. His dedication and tenacity have already resulted in the recycling of 10,000’s of tennis balls! He’s determined to exceed expectations and attend a top-ranked university in 2021 and major in entrepreneurship.
    • Tessa majored in environmental studies and started working at Sand Point Tennis Center in Seattle, Washington, after she graduated, which is when she realized just how wasteful the sport is. Tessa started working with RecycleBalls last summer and has already prevented over 20,000 tennis balls from ending up in US landfills! And she’s not stopping there. Tessa also worked with Nike to start a collection process for their shoe recycling program. We are so happy to have Tessa as an Ambassador
    • Logan Hine – Millions of these discarded rubber balls end up in landfills every year. So, Logan partnered with Recycle Balls, a non-profit organization that specializes in recycling tennis balls.Logan’s efforts are part of a BSA award he’s working on: the William T. Hornaday Award. The tennis ball recycling project has taken two months of work thus far. Logan has recruited his school district and a school district in the neighboring county to sign on with the ball-recycling program. He did the same at tennis clubs in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and got a bin to put around the popular public courts in his hometown.

What opportunities are there for Junior Tennis Players to get involved? 

See above. We simply have not had the bandwidth to put something together. There is a rewarding opportunity for an experienced  volunteer to spearhead this for us nationwide. 

What can the ParentingAces Community do to help your efforts?

Publicize our efforts and help us find a volunteer national youth/ambassador coordinator. 

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