Derya Gurbuz is an avid tennis player. The Sammamish High School senior has been playing since she was eight years old.
Since moving to the area almost two years ago, she’s been playing at the Edgebrook Tennis Club in Bellevue. She practices four to five days a week.
One night while talking with her father, she began to wonder what happens to tennis balls when they lose their bounce.
“I wanted to know what happened to tennis balls when they can no longer be used,” she said. “It turns out, they just get thrown away.”
Gurbuz began researching tennis balls: their lifespan, their materials, how long it takes to decompose.
“It takes about 450 years for a tennis ball to decompose,” she said. “I was shocked.”
As part of her community service project for school, Gurbuz decided to recycle tennis balls. She connected with recycleballs.org.
RecycleBalls is an innovative, youth-driven 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization with a mission to recycle/reuse every tennis ball in the United States. It began in Vermont in 2016.The success of the pilot program led to its nationwide expansion.
According to RecycleBalls, about 125 million used tennis balls wind up in America’s landfills every year. RecycleBalls works to get tennis ball recycling bins in as many schools, tennis clubs and centers as possible. After tennis balls are collected, they are ground up and the felt is separated from the rubber. The rubber crumb generated is referred to as “green gold.”
“Green gold” is used in the construction of tennis courts and a variety of green products such as natural pebble rubber mulch and rubberform sign bases.
Gurbuz launched her project last April. She reached out to local high schools and tennis clubs. She has tennis ball recycling bins at Sammamish High School, Bellevue High School and Edgebrook Tennis Club.
Since April, Gurbuz has collected more than 3,000 tennis balls. Bellevue High School had 1,043 balls, Sammamish High School had 379 balls, and Edgebrook Tennis Club had 2,200 balls.
Chauntelle Johnson, Edgebrook Tennis Club’s manager, said she was excited when Gurbuz approached her about putting recycling bins in the club.
“It’s exciting to know they’re being recycled,” she said. “It’s a good way to make the tennis community better.”
Gurbuz said she’s proud of how many balls she’s been able to save from a landfill.
“I feel like I’m hugging the planet every time I recycle a ball,” she said.
Gurbuz hopes the initiative continues after she graduates.
“I hope my friends and the schools will keep it going,” she said.
To learn more about RecycleBalls, go online to https://www.recycleballs.org/.