You might think losing a golf ball or two during a game is no big deal, but everything adds up.
Golf balls are bad for the environment since they’re sourced from non-renewable materials and are not biodegradable or recyclable.
They also contribute to pollution and could potentially release harmful substances into the environment.
Here’s everything you need to know about the environmental impact of golf balls.
1. What Are Golf Balls Made Of?
Although you might not think of it due to its tough, almost glassy texture, golf balls are mostly made of plastic and synthetic rubber.
The white exterior of a golf ball is usually made from a plastic resin known as Surlyn or urethane.
Urethane is often referred to as polyurethane. The core of a golf ball typically contains synthetic rubber.
The rubber may occasionally also contain metal like titanium or acrylate plastic.
Golf balls may be painted with an aqueous resin.
Golf balls are rarely – if ever – made from natural rubber.
2. Are Golf Balls Bad for the Environment?
Golf balls are bad for the environment.
First, plastic, synthetic rubber, and metal are not renewable.
Synthetic rubber is often made from oil or coal. These materials are also sourced unsustainably.
Mining and the metal industry make up around 8% of the world’s total carbon footprint.
Mining can also interfere with the ecosystem; mine sites physically degrade the environment, displacing flora and fauna, and can cause soil erosion and instability.
Mining also spreads pollution as harmful substances can enter the air, soil, and waterways.
Golf balls are not intended to be single-use items; since they’re durable, they should last up to a decade if taken care of, but they often end up being single-use items.
Many golfers go through golf balls quite quickly since they tend to lose them on the golf course.
If a golf ball ends up in a stream or pond or leaves the course entirely, many golfers are unlikely to retrieve them.
In the US alone, approximately 300 million golf balls are discarded or lost annually.
This means despite having the potential to have a long life span, there is always a demand to produce new golf balls to replace the ones that have been lost; this requires energy and resources.
3. Are Golf Balls Toxic?
Golf balls may be somewhat toxic.
Aqueous resin is water-soluble. However, the fact that it does not contain solvent does not mean it’s always non-toxic, as this is still a broad term.
For example, animal studies found that exposure to aqueous dispersion resin caused alopecia and unkempt fur, enlarged lungs, and histopathological changes.
The core of golf balls may contain zinc oxide, zinc acrylate, and benzoyl peroxide.
These substances are toxic to marine life.
4. Is It Harmful if Golf Balls End up in Lakes or the Ocean?
As mentioned earlier, the core of golf balls contains toxic materials.
However, as they are quite sturdy and can take hundreds of years to break down, these substances may not always be released if the golf balls end up in waterways, but that’s not to say they never are.
The golf ball could still crack open and release harmful substances.
Strong currents and contact with other ocean debris can also wear down golf balls into smaller particles, potentially releasing harmful substances.
They also contribute to pollution. Marine life can mistake smaller golf ball particles for food.
Although some fish seem to be able to pass microplastics and other indigestible items through their systems, this still doesn’t mean they’re harmless.
Research found that even after fish passed microplastics through their system, there were changes in their gut microbiome, liver function, and they had lower levels of minerals and protein.
5. Are Golf Balls Recyclable?
Golf balls are not recyclable.
Although plastic, rubber, and metal may be recyclable, recycling facilities would not have the means to separate all of these components.
When you see recycled golf balls in stores, this simply means that used golf balls have been recovered.
Standard golf balls are not recyclable in the sense that they can be broken down and turned into a new product.
6. Are Golf Balls Biodegradable?
Standard golf balls are not biodegradable since metal, synthetic rubber, and plastic are not biodegradable.
It takes between 100 to 1,000 years for standard golf balls to break down.
Although natural rubber is biodegradable, this process can only occur in certain environments.
A golf course may not have the right temperatures, bacteria present, moisture levels, and more for a natural rubber golf ball to break down.
Plus, even if a ball contains natural rubber, it may not be able to break down if it’s mixed with other substances like plastic or is in the core of a plastic ball.
7. How to Dispose of Golf Balls Properly?
If you recover golf balls and no longer require them, they can be donated to thrift stores or sports clubs if they are still in good condition.
Alternatively, you can sell or auction them through online marketplaces or give them to friends who play golf.
Otherwise, old or damaged golf balls should be placed in a general waste bin, but check with your local waste management company.
8. Are There Eco-Friendly Golf Balls?
There are several brands committed to producing eco-friendly golf balls.
Ecobioball golf balls are said to be non-toxic, biodegradable, and contain fish food in their core.
They break down in waterways within 48 hours and release the fish food.
However, they are single-use items, so they are ideal for playing close to marine environments.
Dixon Golf Balls
Dixon golf balls contain salt rather than metals or synthetic rubber.
The balls are also recyclable. However, they still may not be suited for home recycling.
The brand partners with recycling centers that turn the golf balls into asphalt, athletic tracks, and more.
Biodegradable Golf Balls
A Canadian company, Biodegradable Golf Balls, also sells golf balls that are biodegradable in water.
They also created golf ball tees from bamboo. Bamboo is biodegradable and renewable.
As the fastest growing plant in the world, it is better able to restore itself than other renewable sources like wood – which is what standard tees are often made from.
Recycled Golf Balls
Some brands sell recycled golf balls, which saves them from going to waste.
There is also an incentive to recover used golf balls if they can be sold.