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FedEx Blog

Greening the Game of Tennis

March 23, 2010

A few months ago, through a series of forwarded emails, I received a request for in kind shipping for a small, but growing FedEx customer, reBounces. They were looking for assistance with their tennis ball recycling campaign at an upcoming tennis tournament. Always eager to work on sustainability projects, I immediately was intrigued.

Like so many things in life, I didn’t have a clue of what this entailed. While I took tennis lessons as a youngster, lately the only tennis balls I see are on my TV screen as I play Nintendo Wii.  And yes, I have a mean virtual serve. After a lot of emails, a few conference calls and a weekend at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., I now know a lot more about tennis balls and the importance of recycling them.

Each year in the U.S. alone, more than 300 million tennis balls are bouncing around tennis courts. Unfortunately, tennis balls begin to lose their bounce as soon as you experience the unmistakable sound and smell that comes with opening a fresh can of tennis balls.

Given their short life span – a ball can last mere hours after intense play on a hard court – tennis balls eventually end up in a landfill. Great for tennis ball manufacturers, but not so terrific for the environment.

While tennis players have found some very imaginative things to do with dead balls – from putting them on the bottom of chair legs to prevent scratching floors to designing furniture with them – eventually they all come to the same final resting place, a landfill.

If you check local recycling ordinances, most likely you won’t find tennis balls included among the many plastics, papers and metals that are accepted for recycling. Why? Because to date, very little has been done in the way of recycling tennis balls.

reBounces is looking to change that. The idea started with Bill Dirst, a former high school English teacher in Harrison, Ark., and coach of the school’s tennis team. Working with a tight budget, he sought out ways to stretch his funds for the team. And so began Bill’s very determined quest to figure out how to re-pressurize tennis balls.

The result was the Green Machine. Unveiled at the BNP Paribas Open, the rugged machine is designed to re-pressurize dead tennis balls, giving them back their bounce to play yet another game.

To encourage the more than 330,000 attendees of the BNP Paribas Open to help green the game of tennis, reBounces, BNP Paribas and FedEx Ground sponsored a tennis ball recycling program onsite at the event. Tennis fans were asked to bring in six old balls in exchange for three new ones. At the end of the spectacular event, nearly a ton of tennis balls were packed into the FedEx Special Delivery Van diverting them from an immediate trip to the landfill.

Caption: Grant Garland packs up thousands of used tennis balls at the BNP Paribas Open.

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