It’s not exactly aluminum cans, glass or old newspapers.
But when Saddlebrook resident Martin Levins sees an old, beaten up tennis ball lying in the grass — and as a junior tennis player at Saddlebrook Preparatory School, he sees a lot of them, at his club and other locations — he knows that unless it is recycled, that ball will take 400 years to decompose.
So, the 9th grader decided to do something about it, turning his mission into his Eagle Scout Service Project.
In the past year, Martin has been collecting as many discarded tennis balls as he can, which not only provides a benefit to the environment, but will help people as well — because the balls will be recycled and used to make impact-resistant courts for tennis players who are elderly and disabled.
“I know it sounds amazing, and it is,” Martin says.
Martin, who has been a scout since 2010 and is in Troop 300, which meets in Saddlebrook, put up four recycling Ad-In bins — paid for by sponsors Insight Family Eyecare, Cross Creek Auto Service, Global Access Partners and the Saddlebrook Prep Student Council — all around the tennis courts at Saddlebrook, providing a convenient place for tennis players to discard their old tennis balls, which lose their pressure and ability to bounce after a few sets and, therefore, their usefulness.
He also managed a team of 30 scouts, student athletes and parents to scour the area around Saddlebrook’s 45 tennis courts looking for wayward tennis balls.
“To sweeten the deal, I orchestrated a massive clean-up of the areas around all of the tennis courts in Saddlebrook to clear the environment of used or dead tennis balls,” Martin says.
The balls are then collected from the bins, put into shipping boxes and sent to RecycleBalls, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Vermont.
“It’s an absolutely fantastic operation that Martin is running,” says James DeFusto, tennis director of recruitment for Saddlebrook. “We’ve definitely noticed that outside of the courts are a lot more clear. There are barely, if any, tennis balls lying around. It’s pretty amazing what he’s accomplished so far.”
According to RecycleBalls, 125 million used tennis balls, roughly 20,000 metric tons worth, wind up in landfills around the country every year.
RecycleBalls has partnered with Wilson Tennis and Sport Group, the world’s largest sports surface manufacturer, which takes the recycled tennis ball material and uses it in their Laykold Masters tennis courts, which can be hard or cushioned.
Last month, Martin shipped more than 10,000 tennis balls he collected to RecycleBalls, enough, he says to provide the surface for one low-impact tennis court somewhere in the U.S. Even after Martin finishes his project and the local Council submits it to the BSA National Council to officially make him an Eagle Scout, his efforts will live on.
“This is definitely something we will invest in and continue doing,” DeFusto says.