Glenn C. Sterkel

South Elgin, IL 60177
Phone: (630) 675-0250
[email protected]
Innovative Property Improvement Solutions for the Chicago, IL area.                 1st-Service
Specializing in Staircase Remodeling and Aluminum Restoration

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Recycling Initiatives

The Problem with Tennis Balls

Posted on November 17, 2015 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Tennis balls are quirky little yellow fuzzy cute bouncy things, that we toss into the air and THWACK as hard as we can at a player across the net from us (trying to miss them of course).  In aggressive defensive response, our opponent THWUMPS the little guy back at us in defiance.

At least that is how I suspect it may seem to the poor little ball. These guys are made of simple rubber and cloth and filled with about 15 lb of pressure. They are pretty uniformly spherical but if you examine them real close by bouncing them you'll find that they vary quite a bit depending on how you drop them, the surface they hit, their temperature, etc.

You can squeeze them in your hand, but until you bounce them a few times on the court it is really hard to tell how good they are.  It's a pretty subtle thing to feel, but when you are playing the game, the quality of the bounce becomes extremely evident. 

To effectively recycle tennis balls there has to be some value extracted along the way.  Yes the value of keeping the balls out of landfills is intrinsically evident but historically that has not been enough to make it happen. Let's break down this value issue further - what are all the possibilities?

1. original intended use: as a tennis ball.
Pro: can be re-pressurized with a green machine (reBounces)
Pro: Used balls have an established fair market value, selling for anywhere from .24-.51 cents/ball on places like ebay.
Pro: Balls that are not used up can be re-sold
Con: Not many players see value in the used balls sold, since only a percentage of them actually bounce well enough.
Con: sorting out which ones actually bounce good from a batch is difficult and time consuming. 
Con: re-use and re-pressurization extends the ball life but still gets thrown away later

2. Secondary uses without modification:
Dog toys, balls for non-tennis play, space fillers

3. Secondary uses with structural modification: (cuts, holes drilled, squeekers inserted, etc)
Chair leg cushions, walker leg covers, dog toys, tent post covers

4. Secondary uses with cosmetic modification: (cleaning, coloring, gluing together, etc.)
Children toys, arts & crafts, sculpture

5. Secondary uses deconstructed: (ground, shredded, pulverized)
Equestrian turf, tennis court layers, fiber-reinforced concrete and other surfaces, Landscape mulch,

6. Uses of the material components: (rubber, nylon/wool, epoxy resin)
Each of these may have value if they can be separated for less cost than the value attained

Like any other form of recycling (electronics, plastics, etc.), sorting is the first key step to isolating value from the items

The first and most value-adding stage of sorting for tennis balls is for reuse in tennis (value 1 above), so that is the focus of 2nd-Bounces.  

To produce the highest fair market value, we must identify which balls are still play-worthy, and better yet, to get the most value from each ball, how play-worthy are they?  The best criteria for play-worthiness is rebound performance.  

This assumes all the other "quality" factors are inherent in the type of balls being sorted. Ball characteristics such as size, weight, color, feel, have been well standardized.  Overall quality and durability is pretty much determined by the manufacturer brand and is selected by the supplying club to best fit their programs. Thus, all these parameters are fairly consistent within any batch of discarded indoor court balls.

What varies widely is the bounce (or rebound to use the technical term). The reason the rebound varies widely even when all the balls were purchased at about the same time, is due to the random amount of hits they endure while being used. The number of times each ball in a cart gets hit, and the amount of impact it gets hit with, is a random distribution.  Just by random chance, some balls hardly get played with, while others are beaten nearly to death.

Rebound performance of a tennis ball can only be measured one way -- by measuring how high the ball rebounds when dropped onto a legitimate hard surface. Squeezing the ball does not work. I repeat, squeeeezzzzinnnng the ball does NOT work! This is a proven fact, dont fool yourself.

So this is what we do at 2nd-Bounces. Being an engineering company, we designed a system to automate it.  Now we can do the difficult sorting task with much less effort, enough less so that the ball sales actually generate a reasonable amount of revenue to pay for the labor it takes to get it done (maintaining the facility, loading the machine, boxing balls, quality control, etc.. We can provide a job that pays much better than minimum wage).

So the Problem with Tennis Balls is not insurmountable. 2nd-Bounces is offering a great solution and we need your help to make it happen.