Anyone for Tennis?

At a typical tennis match, a player uses a new can of balls just once. After the match, the used balls wind up in a practice basket or ball machine, but it’s not long before they’re bound for the landfill. Rebounces, an Arkansas-based company founded by tennis enthusiast Bill Dirst, has developed a method to give used tennis balls a second bounce.

E Magazine: What sparked the idea for your business?

Bill Dirst: We are avid tennis players and passionate about the sport. We didn’t like throwing balls away, but we knew of no other outlet for disposing of them environmentally. Some tennis facilities and pros donate used balls to animal shelters and other charitable uses, but that’s only a very small quantity of balls. While serving as volunteer tennis teachers in rural Arkansas, we saw that buying new tennis balls for teaching sessions was the biggest cost to a facility. In 2007, we concluded that not only was there a business opportunity here, but there was also a need for an environmental service.

E: How does Rebounces work?

B.D.: From a waste-disposal standpoint, it is presently too costly to separate the felt from the rubber ball because of its adhesive. Instead, we invented a way to “recharge” used tennis balls. Our proprietary technology allows us to breathe “bounce” back into balls and resell them [at a discount] as practice balls.

E: Who do you work with?

B.D.: Rebounces is trying to help tennis facilities and tennis pros “green” their practice sessions. At some tennis facilities, there may be as many as 15-30 teaching pros——that means thousands of balls per month. We help by extending the life of the balls once or twice before the felt is too worn out for the court. That’s a major cost savings to them and an effort that helps the environment by slowing down the number of balls that end up in landfills.

E: What has been the response to your service?

B.D.: At the 2009 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, event coordinators gave us booth space to do a cross-promotion with Penn and raise awareness about a better way of disposing tennis balls. Spectators who brought in six used balls received a new can of Penn balls in return. Roughly 3,000 old balls were collected.

Rebounces also has partnerships with like-minded organizations and individuals. For example, we’re working with Billie Jean King’s initiative, “Green Slam.” And we’ve partnered with tennis facilities and tennis pros around the country that are teaching and influencing the next generation of players.

E: How much does your service cost?

B.D.: There is no fee to recycle tennis balls with us. In fact, we even pay for the shipping——although to be cost-effective, we can only accept a minimum quantity of 250 balls. We encourage individual tennis players to collect balls with their friends.