Fuzzy Math: Summit Recycling Advisory Committee Serves Up Tennis Ball Recycling Initiative

Members of the Summit Recycling Advisory Committee and the Summit Tennis Association celebrate the new tennis ball recycling bins located at Memorial Field.

SUMMIT, NJ - Hilltop City tennis players discard an estimated 10,000 tennis balls at Summit’s outdoor tennis facilities every single year, based on figures from the Sustainable City Network. Tennis balls -- made of rubber, felt and cement -- lose pressure and become flat after just a couple of uses and remarkably take more 450 years to break down in a landfill. While in a landfill, tennis balls generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Seeing a need, the Summit Recycling Advisory Committee (RAC) has partnered with the Summit Tennis Association, the Summit Department of Public Works and the Summit Department of Community Programs to pilot a program to recycle the tennis balls. In a program recently served up on the Memorial Field tennis courts, the RAC has installed two heavy blue plastic bins, which can hold up to 300 balls each. These bins were marked for recycling with the help of the high school members of the RAC. The RAC also commissioned a sign to make it easier for tennis players to identify the recycling spots. 

Players can also recycle the ball cans and the pull tabs for the cans separately in the commingled recycling bins at the courts. The cans and pull tabs cannot be combined with the tennis balls.

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The used balls are collected by volunteers and are shipped at no charge to The Tennis Ball Project, where the orbs are chopped into little pieces and manufactured into rubberized surfaces for tennis courts. This program will decrease the waste going into the waste stream, reduce pollution caused by the disposal of used tennis balls and reduce costs of manufacturing of tennis surfaces.

The RAC, with the help of students from Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School, has prepared and sent the first shipment of 360 balls from Memorial Field to The Tennis Ball Project. The RAC plans to roll out the program to other tennis facilities during the next year.

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