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article imageDisposing of 14 million old tennis balls? France has a solution

By Robert Myles     Apr 8, 2012 in Environment
Tennis players in France get through a staggering 14 million tennis balls each year. The French Tennis Federation has come up with a novel solution to recycle old tennis balls generating a benefit to communities.
In France, recycling is second nature. At many recycling facilities there are even separate containers to take the plastic tops off drinks containers as these are made from a different high impact plastic than the containers themselves. Now the French Tennis Federation, the Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT), has come up with a targeted scheme for old tennis balls that is making its own niche contribution to sustainable development.
Over the past four years, the FFT, has taken recycling to a new level with its Opération Balle Jaune, Operation Yellow Ball, a campaign to encourage tennis clubs, leagues and players throughout France to recycle old tennis balls. The rubber from old tennis balls is ultimately transformed into sports surfaces used by children who may be mentally or physically disabled.
In the first year of Opération Balle Jaune in 2009, 150,000 balls were collected. The number of balls collected has risen steadily each year since with 600,000 collected in 2010 and 830,000 in 2011. In 2012, the French Tennis Federation reports that it expects to break the 1,000,000 barrier and is on course to collect an estimated 1.1 million tennis balls!
So far, Opération Balle Jaune has been responsible for the construction of thirteen durable but safe sports surfaces throughout France. The FFT says it expects to see this number almost double by the end of 2012.
14 Million Tennis balls used each year in France
Nearly 14 million tennis balls are used annually in France at tennis clubs and tournaments. The average life of a tennis ball has been estimated at between one and two years. Traditionally, either tennis balls or the raw materials to make them were imported. At the end of their life, used tennis balls had to be incinerated along with other waste products. There was no process available to recycle them and effectively give them a second life.
Now, used tennis balls are helping to reduce France’s carbon footprint. Balls which have reached the end of their playable life are ground into granules and added to the resins used to make durable sports surfaces. It’s an efficient resource as a mere 40,000 balls provide enough material for 100 square metres of a durable and safe multi-purpose surface. The surface produced has been deployed in rehabilitation centres, medical and educational facilities and children’s hospitals.
Explained Jean Gachassin, President of the FFT, “It is by identifying the problem of the consumption of balls that we considered a responsible approach and implemented an action plan. Of course, we approached the matter of sustainable development in the knowledge that our contribution would be small but we are committed to challenging the practices of everyday life and integrating the notion of responsible consumption in all areas for which the FFT has responsibility.”
The FFT is realistic enough to realise that it won’t solve the problem of carbon emissions single-handed but by ‘mining’ its own natural resource, it is contributing to the fight to reduce carbon emissions whilst at the same time engaging in a scheme that carries benefits for wide sections of the community, an idea that might appeal to tennis federations worldwide.
More about Environment, Recycling, Tennis, Sustainable development, Waste
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