Golf is a way of life for so many, but players who have an environmental consciousness often find themselves wondering, are golf balls biodegradable?
Few things compare to an amazing afternoon playing golf - with the sport as popular now as it ever was been in the past. However, the rise in environmental standards and sustainable living around the globe is resulting in golfers and ecologists taking a closer look at the environmental impacts of the sport - and golf balls in particular.
Standard golf balls used by most players are non-biodegradable and are non-recyclable - taking 100-1000 years to decompose. However, there are golf balls made out of corn starch and polyvinyl alcohol, which are 100% biodegradable and non-harmful to the environment, but they’re still non-recyclable.
These days, environmental values and regulations have been very standardized in the United States as well as many other parts of the world. With the planet’s health constantly in decline, environmentalists are examining the ecological footprint of humans under a microscope - to eliminate or, at least, help mitigate our negative impacts. As far as serious environmental concerns, golf is by no means at the top of anyone’s list for ecological harm. However, there has been some reason to believe that the sport can be contributing to some form of ecological disruption - with golf balls being a focus of discussion by some ecologists. This particularly has to do with whether golf balls will break down in the environment. To help you understand this further, we are going to take a closer look at the environmental impact of golf balls in more detail.
After extensively researching golf balls, I have been able to gather enough information to determine their biodegradability. My research has shown me that golf balls are not biodegradable - unless they were made from environmentally-friendly materials.
What Are Golf Balls Made Of?
It can be quite tricky to pinpoint exactly what golf balls are made out of with the naked eye - given that they have a number of different components.
Rubber Multi-Layer Golf Balls
The classic golf balls that we all know and that players still used to this day are rubber multi-layer golf balls. These are made out of a hard rubber interior, which is then covered with durable plastic.
Corn Starch and Polyvinyl Golf Balls
The golfing industry has been modernized - with many golfers opting for new-age golf balls that are made out of corn starch and polyvinyl alcohol. These are much more natural materials compared to the ones that traditional golf balls are made out of.
Types of Golf Balls
There are two primary types of golf balls used by players, which can be defined as either biodegradable or non-biodegradable. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Biodegradable Golf Balls
So many players are deciding to buy eco-golf balls that are made out of corn starch and polyvinyl alcohol over traditional ones.
These golf balls eliminate virtually any harm that traditional options can cause. These new-age golf balls have been proven to be safe to use in virtually all kinds of environments.
Non-Biodegradable Golf Balls
Regular golf balls are still very much the standard among a lot of players. These are made out of a rubber interior and a hard plastic exterior. Traditional golf balls are not biodegradable, which can potentially result in adverse effects on the environment.
Ecological Impact of Golf Balls
The standard golf balls that many players use that are made out of plastic and rubber are not considered to be extremely harmful to the environment - especially in small quantities. However, large quantities of golf balls can have a negative ecological impact. These golf balls are made with toxic materials that have been known to be destructive - especially to aquatic ecosystems.
As the golf balls start to slowly break down, they release these toxic chemicals into the ecosystem - having a negative impact on freshwater and ocean species. This is particularly problematic when golf courses are located near natural ecosystems. In addition, as these golf balls do begin to biodegrade, they start to release plastic into the environment.
Over time, golf balls in large quantities can release a considerable amount of microplastics, which have been known to be very destructive to aquatic species. This can be particularly alarming when we consider how many golf balls that are not biodegradable are left in the environment on an annual basis. It is estimated that there are around 300 million golf balls that are lost in the environment every year in the United States alone!
On the other hand, golf balls that biodegrade cause little to no harm to the environment. These golf balls were designed with natural materials that guarantee a fast decomposition process, which prevents the damage that traditional golf balls cause through toxicity and microplastics. Eco-golf balls can break down and decompose in as little as 48 hours. This makes them the ideal choice for the sport of golf, as they eliminate all of the negative impacts that traditional golf balls have on the environment.
Can You Recycle Non-Biodegradable Golf Balls?
Unfortunately, golf balls are not recyclable. They are made out of rubber and plastic, which are technically recyclable materials, however, due to how they were made - their design does not enable an efficient recycling process. Golf balls that do end up in recycling plants will more often than not be sorted to flow into landfills where they will slowly decompose.
However, there are some DIY approaches that you can take to ensure that traditional golf balls are recycled without being processed. Golf balls can be reused extensively. Instead of throwing away your regular golf balls that have been played with, you can always re-use them for future games. Alternatively to this, you can give them away to a friend that you play golf with or someone else at your local course.
In addition, there are plenty of other organizations that would be more than happy to take your golf balls off of your hands. A lot of schools, country clubs, and even second-hand stores can greatly benefit from your used balls and you can recycle them simply by donating them to those in need.
How Much are Golf Balls Worth?
Golf is considered to be one of the most expensive sports to get into. There are so many costs that include reserving time to play, buying clubs, equipment, and of course - golf balls.
The price that you pay for golf balls can greatly add up, as there is not a single type of universal ball that is used by all players of the sport. There are a lot of different brands and manufacturers that make golf balls - for either causal/or novice players, which are relatively cheap. However, there are also high-quality, professional-grade golf balls used by a lot of enthusiasts, as well as industry pros. These can be very expensive.
When buying low-end golf balls you can expect to pay around $1 per ball - or $10 to $15 for a pack of 12. However, for high-grade golf balls, the price can range from $25 to $50 for a pack of 12. With so many options out there, the prices can fluctuate quite a bit. Here is a breakdown of the common golf balls used by players - as well as their prices.
How Long Does it Take for Golf Balls to Biodegrade?
It takes golf balls anywhere from 100 to 1000 years to biodegrade! It can be challenging to pinpoint that exact figure given that golf balls are made out of a couple of different components and materials.
We know that plastics take around 500 years to biodegrade (or more) and rubber usually takes 50 to 100 years to biodegrade. However, golf balls use a very solid type of rubber that is considerably more durable than usual, which can result in its decomposition taking a lot longer than expected.
In addition, golf balls have a habit of ending up in all sorts of different places and environments, which can influence how long it takes them to biodegrade. Golf balls that end up on land can often take a considerably longer time to break down with many expected to take as long as 1000 years. Whereas golf balls that land in water will take a shorter time to biodegrade but they will cause more damage to the environment due to the toxins and microplastics that the golf balls release.
Are Biodegradable Golf Balls Expensive?
Eco-golf balls are a great way to play the sport of golf without overthinking environmental impact. However, these golf balls are made with more advanced materials that are harder to produce - resulting in increased costs.
On average, eco-friendly golf balls cost around $35.00 for a 12 pack. However, many sellers offer discounted prices to buyers who purchase them in bulk.
Biodegradable Golf Ball Performance
Depending on who you ask, golf balls that are biodegradable can actually have increased performance compared to standard balls. These eco-friendly golf balls are known to fly faster and farther due to their higher compressor rate.
This can make golfing easier for a lot of players, which is why newbies tend to really enjoy biodegradable options when first starting out.
What to Do with Non-Biodegradable Golf Balls
The best thing that you can do with your regular golf balls is to use them until they have completely worn out. However, if they have still got life in them and you do not want to throw them away, what you can always do is donate them to someone who needs them - a friend, country club, or charity. You should always try to find your used golf balls instead of abandoning them in the environment.
If they are past their prime, your best bet is going to be to dispose of them properly so that they end up in a landfill instead of a healthy ecosystem. To avoid having to deal with disposing of your regular golf balls in the future, the best route to take would be to simply start buying biodegradable options, as they can break down in as little as 48 hours.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker