Bounce Circular - program which aims to make tennis and padel sustainable by recycling tennis and padel balls

What's the latest on recycling in the world of tennis and padel?

Today is 18 March and guess what? It's World Recycling Day. So we took the opportunity to find out what's being done to recycle balls when they reach the end of their life.

As mentioned in a previous article, there are two major operations in Belgium and France that recycle balls and their tubes. These are the Tennis Solidaire scheme run by the Association Francophone de Tennis (AFT) for Belgian clubs and the Balle Jaune scheme run by the Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT) for French clubs.

What is Tennis Solidaire?

Samuel Deflandre, current Secretary General of the AFT, is the man behind this great initiative. He had the vision of making tennis more eco-responsible by collecting balls and their tubes from all the clubs in the AFT region, recycling them.

It was in April 2017, thanks in particular to subsidies from the Walloon region, that this project saw the light of day under the name of the Tennis Solidaire operation.

In September 2017, the first collections of used balls were organised. It was an immediate great success, as the initial target of collecting 40,000 balls was quickly exceeded, eventually reaching more than 50,000 balls collected.

The operation got off to a good start, especially as the Davis Cup team at the time, made up of Johan Van Herck, David Goffin, Steve Darcis, Ruben Bemelmans, Arthur De Greef and Joris De Loore, showed their support for the project. We'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that the Belgian team were finalists in this prestigious international event that year (losing the final to... the French team)!

You may be wondering how the whole organisation works, from the used balls in your bag to their complete recycling? We'll explain it all below!

Stage 1: Collection

As soon as the box is ¾ full, the club notifies the AFT. The Tennis Solidaire volunteers will then collect the balls within the month, while trying to combine the collection as much as possible with other clubs in the region. They visit around 10 to 15 clubs in a day, trying to group together those in the same region to optimise journeys and remain eco-responsible. Every year, volunteers carry out an average of 25 collection days across Wallonia.

ball boy putting a ball in a ball bin

Stage 2: sorting

After that, the balls and tubes are centralised in a hangar in the Marche-en-Famenne region. It is here that the Tennis Solidaire teams sort and separate the balls from their tubes. A distinction is also made between aluminium and plastic tubes.

Stage 3: Recycling and processing

Once sorted, the balls are sent to a company in the north of France, which will crush them in its recycling plant. The balls are then separated into rubber granulates and felt residues (the yellow material on the bale) by a blowing process. The granulates are then transformed into a resin that is poured into sports floors or sports mats. These pitches are made from rubber and are suitable for all types of games. The soft surface developed in this way has the advantage of being shock-absorbing, making it ideal for sports and educational activities.

To create a 100m² pitch, you need around 40,000 balls. To date, the Tennis Solidaire operation has already collected more than 200,000 balls, equivalent to 12 tonnes of waste.

The AFT's objective for 2021 is twofold. On the one hand, it would like to continue its momentum and, despite the health crisis, collect more than 50,000 balls. Secondly, in the coming months AFT will be launching its first call for projects to create its first sports floor for a charity.

As far as the tubes are concerned, the Belgian company CETT collects the full containers (some plastic tubes, others aluminium tubes) from the sorting centre, and takes care of their complete recycling.

Who is the team behind this great project?

It's a small, agile and dynamic team behind this great initiative.

It is made up of its founder Samuel Deflandre who, despite his new role as General Secretary of the Federation, remains closely involved in this project which is close to his heart; a project manager (Charline Gilain) who manages and coordinates the teams of volunteers, the collection rounds, the supply of containers to the clubs and relations with the partners responsible for recycling; and finally a communications manager (Cécile Parent) who ensures the visibility of this project within the clubs as well as with partners and sponsors.

Samuel Deflandres

And what about Balle Jaune?

On the other side of the border, the French Tennis Federation (FFT) has been developing a social and solidarity-based commitment since 2008, when it signed the environmental commitment charter with the Ministry of Sustainable Development and ADEME (Agence de l'Environnement et la Maîtrise de l'Energie).

Balle Jaune Fédération Française de Tennis

The Balle Jaune operation, the French Tennis Federation's flagship sustainable development initiative, also enables used tennis balls to be recycled. The balls are collected by COVED from the leagues and recycled in the same factory as the Tennis Solidaire operation.

In much the same way as the Tennis Solidaire operation in Belgium, there are 5 stages to the process:

  1. Collection from the clubs and transport to the collection centre(s) in each league.
  2. Collection of the balls from the leagues. This tour of France, carried out by two lorries, is
  3. optimised into two loops to reduce the number of kilometres travelled.
  4. Shredding of the balls.
  5. Transformation into sports floors.
  6. Sponsorship of local charities.

Sponsored by Stéphane Houdet and Nathalie Dechy, this flagship initiative in the FFT's commitment to society has already made it possible to collect 12.3 million used balls since 2009, and to produce 44 sports floors that have been donated to social and charitable organisations such as rehabilitation centres, medical and educational institutes, motor education institutes and children's hospitals.

Introducing Bounce Circular: Shaping the Future of Eco-Responsible Tennis and Padel

In a landscape increasingly focused on sustainable practices within the tennis and padel industry, Bounce Circular stands out as a pioneering force. This visionary project isn't just about recycling; it's about redefining the entire life cycle of tennis and padel balls through a groundbreaking closed-loop system.

At its core, Bounce Circular is not merely an initiative but a paradigm shift in how we approach the environmental impact of sporting equipment. The project is driven by a commitment to sustainability that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of ball usage. By establishing a closed-loop system, Bounce Circular ensures that every ball's journey, from production to disposal and back to production, is a continuous and environmentally conscious cycle.

What sets Bounce Circular apart is its holistic approach, looking beyond individual initiatives and forging collaborations with industry leaders. These strategic partnerships aim to create a unified front in addressing the environmental challenges associated with tennis and padel ball waste. Together, these initiatives form a powerful alliance, fostering a comprehensive and integrated model for recycling and repurposing.

Choosing to embrace Bounce Circular isn't just a commitment to environmental sustainability; it's an active participation in a transformative movement that is reshaping the entire ethos of tennis and padel. As players, clubs, and organizations adopt Bounce Circular, they are not just supporting a project; they are becoming catalysts for change. It's a collective effort that transcends individual actions, contributing to a larger narrative of eco-responsibility within the sporting world.

In the dynamic evolution of the tennis and padel industry, Bounce Circular is more than a project – it's a revolution. It challenges the status quo and envisions a future where the life cycle of sports equipment is intricately woven into a sustainable fabric. By doing so, Bounce Circular aspires to redefine our understanding of tennis and padel ball management, setting new standards for environmental stewardship in sports.

In essence, Bounce Circular is not just shaping the future of eco-responsible tennis; it's guiding an entire industry toward a more sustainable and conscientious tomorrow. As players and stakeholders align with this visionary project, they are actively contributing to a positive transformation that echoes beyond the sports arena, resonating with a global need for sustainable practices in every aspect of life.

Now that we've explained the whole process, we hope you'll think about putting your used balls and tubes in your club's appropriate bins so that they can be recycled into sports surfaces for the associations that need them. This small, harmless gesture will have a positive environmental and social impact.
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