How Do You Recycle Old Sports Balls?

How Do You Recycle Old Sports Balls

It’s inevitable that all of our favorite sports produce some amount of waste, with some sports requiring more gear than others. It’s important to be mindful of ways to extend our equipment’s lifespan and familiarize ourselves with how to dispose of materials responsibly. Below are some tips and guidelines for recycling old sports balls.

How to Recycle Old Basketballs

Basketballs typically last between four and five years before showing signs of wear and tear (like loss of grip or cracks that can lead to deflation). If the ball is still usable, it’s worth looking into donation options in your area! Organizations like Victory Sports, located in New York, accept lightly used sports balls and redistribute them to underserved kids.

However, if your basketball is truly on its last leg, it can be disposed of with minimal environmental impact. Because the balls are made of mostly rubber and nylon, they can be deflated and recycled. The only non-recyclable element is the polymer bladder inside, which takes about 30 years to decompose. Many companies are starting to produce basketballs made of recycled rubber, which is a great option to keep playing sustainably.

How to Recycle Old Footballs

Despite being referred to as “pigskin,” most modern footballs are actually made out of cowhide or vulcanized rubber. Knowing what kind you have is crucial to knowing your recycling options. A well-made ball can last as long as 15 years before showing signs of distress. Leather factories often accept cleaned leather that can then be shredded and reformed. This recycled rubber is bound with a rubber agent to create new items like wallets and belts, and the rubber bladder inside the football can be used to make new footballs. 

Many consumers get creative, turning balls into handbags, tops, planters, and other types of decor. If this isn’t your speed, reselling, donating, seeking out a leatherwork establishment, or visiting your local recycling center to ensure all elements of the ball are disposed of correctly are your best options.

How to Recycle Old Volleyballs

The recyclability of old volleyballs depends on the quality of the material your ball is made from. Typically lower-quality standardized balls are not recyclable. Companies like REWILD are working to make volleyball a more sustainable sport by making balls out of plant-based materials, and the World Volleyball Federation has started an initiative to reclaim discarded fishing nets and transform them into volleyball nets. 

As with any ball you’re thinking of discarding, donating somewhere like your local YMCA or afterschool program is the first place to start. Animal shelters are often in search of toys if your ball has reached its play-time capacity, and seeking out sustainably made equipment to begin with helps keep volleyballs out of landfills.

How to Recycle Old Baseballs

A comforting fact for baseball fans is that when balls are removed mid-game, as they often are, they do not get immediately discarded. The major leagues have their own “recycling” process, in which balls are passed down through the minor leagues and on through lower-level competition before they're done away with for good. The balls themselves are made of mostly all biodegradable materials like wool yarn, leather, and rubber. However, separating these materials as an everyday consumer can prove challenging.

Recycling centers can be helpful for parsing out what goes where, and companies like Zero Waste Box are starting to offer alternatives for the bulk recycling of various sports balls. Zero Waste Box allows you to purchase boxes of different sizes which can then be filled with any kind of ball and shipped off to be sustainably disposed of. Pricing can be somewhat prohibitive depending on the size, but if you have the means, services like these can afford a no-hassle option for recycling. It also offers a great opportunity for a community call to action and even crowdsourcing if you and your neighbors are interested in responsibly disposing of worn-out balls in bulk.

Tips for Recycling Sports Balls

As with any item, our best options for environmentally conscientious use are:

  • Reducing the number of products we buy
  • Treating our products with care so as to get the longest use out of them possible
  • Seeking out resale and donation options if the products are still usable but no longer serving us
  • Finding creative ways to repurpose items rather than throwing them away

These will always be the first steps to responsible consumption. However, when an item is genuinely ready for disposal, knowing what materials it’s made of is crucial to determining where best to recycle them and minimize waste. New options for recycling old sports gear are gradually evolving as companies take a greater interest in sustainability, and consumers are finding increasingly creative ways to give old products new life.