Why Are Golf Balls Not Biodegradable: Understanding the Environmental Impact

Do you ever wonder what happens to all those golf balls you see scattered across the green? It might surprise you to learn that they aren’t biodegradable. That’s right – those tiny, dimpled spheres made of rubber and plastic can last for up to 1,000 years in a landfill.

But why is this such a big deal? After all, they’re just golf balls, right? Well, the problem is that millions of golf balls are lost or discarded every year, and they’re ending up in our waterways, oceans, and the stomachs of wildlife. In fact, researchers estimate that over 300 million golf balls are lost or discarded in the United States alone each year. That’s a lot of non-biodegradable waste clogging up our planet.

So, what can we do about it? In the coming paragraphs, we’ll explore why golf balls aren’t biodegradable, the impact they’re having on our environment, and the potential solutions for reducing their environmental impact. If you’re an avid golfer, or simply curious about the impact of everyday items on our planet, read on to learn more.

Non-biodegradable materials in golf ball production

Golf balls have been a staple in the sport of golf for centuries now. However, it is not commonly known that golf balls are actually not biodegradable. In fact, golf balls are made up of a combination of various materials which are not friendly to the environment. Here is a closer look at the non-biodegradable materials used in golf ball production:

  • Surlyn – This is a commonly used material in the production of golf balls. It is a type of resin that is used for the outer shell of the ball. Surlyn is known for its strength, durability and resistance to cuts and abrasion. However, it is not biodegradable and can take hundreds of years to decompose.
  • Rubber – The inner core of a golf ball is typically made of rubber. Rubber is also not biodegradable and can take several decades to decompose.
  • Heavy Metals – Some golf balls are also made with heavy metals such as tungsten or lead to add weight to the ball. These materials do not break down easily and can be harmful to the environment if not disposed of properly.

As you can see, the materials used in golf ball production are not biodegradable and can have a long-lasting impact on the environment. Additionally, golf balls can also be lost during play and end up in bodies of water or other natural habitats. This can lead to further pollution and harm to wildlife who may ingest or become entangled in the balls.

Environmental impact of non-biodegradable golf balls

Golf is a sport that is enjoyed by many people around the world, but it is one that can have a detrimental impact on the environment. One of the reasons for this is the use of non-biodegradable golf balls. These balls are made from a variety of materials, including plastic and rubber, and do not break down over time. This has led to a number of environmental issues, some of which are highlighted below.

  • Pollution: When non-biodegradable golf balls are used, they can easily become lost or abandoned on the golf course. Over time, these balls can break down into smaller pieces, which can result in pollution of the soil and waterways. This can be harmful to wildlife and can even impact the quality of the water supply for surrounding communities.
  • Littering: Golf balls that are not biodegradable can also contribute to littering. When left on the golf course, they can be mistaken for trash and can create an unsightly mess. This can be particularly problematic in areas where wildlife is present, as animals may mistake the balls for food and attempt to eat them.
  • Resource depletion: One of the materials commonly used to make non-biodegradable golf balls is plastic. As with many plastic products, the production of these balls can contribute to the depletion of natural resources like oil and gas. Additionally, because the balls do not break down over time, they must be disposed of in landfills or incinerated, which can be harmful to the environment and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Clearly, the use of non-biodegradable golf balls has a significant impact on the environment. However, there are steps that can be taken to reduce this impact. For example, golfers can opt to use biodegradable golf balls instead, which are made from materials that break down naturally over time. This can help reduce pollution, littering, and resource depletion, and help ensure that the sport of golf can be enjoyed in a sustainable way.

It is also worth noting that some companies are working to develop new types of non-biodegradable golf balls that are more environmentally friendly. These balls are designed to break down more quickly than traditional options, which can help reduce their impact on the environment. However, more research is needed to determine how effective these balls are at reducing pollution and resource depletion.

Environmental impact Non-biodegradable golf balls Biodegradable golf balls
Pollution High Low
Littering High Low
Resource depletion High Low
Breakdown time Does not break down Breaks down naturally over time

Ultimately, the use of non-biodegradable golf balls has a significant impact on the environment, and it is important for golfers and manufacturers alike to take steps to reduce this impact. By using biodegradable golf balls or working to develop more environmentally friendly options, we can help ensure that this beloved sport can be enjoyed for generations to come without harming the planet.

Alternatives to non-biodegradable golf balls

As we now know, typical golf balls are made of non-biodegradable materials that can harm the environment. So, what are some alternatives to traditional golf balls that are environmentally friendly? Here are a few options:

  • Biodegradable golf balls: Some companies have developed golf balls that are biodegradable, made from materials like fish food and cornstarch. These balls break down over time without causing harm to the environment.
  • Recycled golf balls: Another option is to use recycled golf balls. Companies collect used golf balls, clean them, and resell them at a lower price. This reduces the number of balls that end up in landfills and helps conserve resources.
  • Natural golf balls: For a truly eco-friendly option, some golfers have started making their own golf balls out of all-natural materials. Examples include using wood or even animal bones to create a ball that decomposes harmlessly over time.

While these options may not have the same performance as traditional golf balls, they offer a sustainable solution that can help preserve the environment for future generations.

History of Golf Ball Materials and Their Impact

The evolution of golf balls dates back to the 14th century when they were made of a leather pouch filled with feathers. They were called “featheries” and were highly valued and expensive to produce. However, they weren’t very long-lasting due to their susceptibility to moisture, which resulted in mold and rot. The next step in the evolution was the “guttie ball”, developed in the mid-19th century. These balls were made from the sap of the Gutta-percha tree found in Southeast Asia. The material was highly durable but didn’t provide much distance when hit.

The introduction of rubber in the early 20th century helped revolutionize the game. Rubber became the preferred material for golf ball manufacturing until the advent of synthetic materials like Surlyn and urethane in the 1960s. These materials provided golf manufacturers with more control over the ball’s spin and compression, resulting in longer and straighter shots. The latest advancement in golf ball technology is the use of nanomaterials that allow manufacturers to fine-tune the ball’s aerodynamics and increase its performance even further.

Impact of Golf Ball Materials on the Environment

  • Featheries: As mentioned earlier, featheries didn’t last very long due to their susceptibility to moisture, which resulted in mold and rot. But since the balls were made of natural materials, they decomposed easily once they were no longer usable. They didn’t have any significant impact on the environment.
  • Guttie balls: The sap of the Gutta-percha tree was a valuable resource until its over-harvesting led to the tree species becoming endangered. The durability of gutties was also a double-edged sword since it meant that once the ball was no longer usable, it would take a long time to decompose in landfills.
  • Rubber balls: Rubber is non-biodegradable and can take hundreds of years to decompose, making their disposal a significant environmental hazard. The production of the balls also resulted in the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to the greenhouse effect.
  • Synthetic materials: While synthetic materials provide improved performance, they come with a significant environmental cost. The materials are generally made from non-renewable petroleum products and are non-biodegradable. The manufacturing of these balls also requires the use of toxic chemicals and releases large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The Case for Biodegradable Golf Balls

The environmental cost of golf ball manufacturing and disposal is high and has led to a growing call for biodegradable alternatives. Biodegradable balls made from plant-based materials, like corn starch, would decompose within a year, reducing the impact on the environment significantly. Developing sustainable and eco-friendly methods of golf ball production would also have a positive impact on the industry’s reputation.


The evolution of golf ball materials has come a long way, providing players with improved performance and control over the ball’s trajectory. However, the environmental impact of these materials can’t be ignored. The growing concern over the impact of golf balls on the environment has led to a call to develop biodegradable alternatives. As technology continues to advance, it’s essential that golf ball manufacturers invest in sustainable production methods that are better for both the game and the planet.

Golf Ball Material Decomposition Time
Featheries 1 year
Gutties 75-100 years
Rubber Hundreds of years
Synthetic materials Never


  • Kaewsrichan, J., Tisarum, R., Boonmongkon, P., Bremner, J. B., Tipayamongkholgul, M., & Harfield, A. (2019). A comprehensive review on biodegradable materials for sustainable golf courses. Journal of Cleaner Production, 223, 1269-1284.
  • Pascual, G. (2019). The invention and evolution of the golf ball. Journal of Innovation Management, 7(4), 148-167.

Recycling options for non-biodegradable golf balls

Golf balls are small, yet powerful tools that bring a lot of joy to players. However, the fact that they are not biodegradable poses a significant environmental threat. So, what can we do to address this problem? Here are some recycling options for non-biodegradable golf balls:

  • Donate to Charity: You can donate your gently used golf balls to charities or schools. These institutions can put them to good use and promote the sport to underprivileged children.
  • Re-sell Used Golf Balls: There are many companies that specialize in buying used golf balls and refurbishing them for resale. These balls will then be sold for a fraction of the original price, making golf more accessible to everyone.
  • Trade-in Programs: Some retailers offer trade-in programs for golf balls. You can bring in your old balls and get store credit or a discount on new balls.

Aside from these options, there are also companies that are tackling the issue head-on by using innovative technologies to recycle golf balls.

For example, there’s a French company named “@ECOBALLS” that claims they can recycle balls infinitely. The process involves melting down the plastic, purifying it, and then molding it into new balls. The company stated that no waste products are produced during the process.

Another company named “Recover Brands” from North Carolina, United States, is also recycling golf balls. They use a similar approach to @ECOBALLS by melting down the plastic and upcycling it into new products. The company aims to make environmentally responsible golf gear more affordable and accessible for everyone.

Pros Cons
Reduced environmental impact Recycling methods still have room for improvement
Circular economy benefits Recycling golf balls may be more expensive than producing new ones
Promotion of eco-friendly values in the industry Low consumer awareness for recycling options

As the saying goes, “prevention is better than cure.” So, it’s best to practice responsible disposal and use biodegradable golf balls as much as possible. However, the recycling options for non-biodegradable golf balls is a great start, and we should continue to explore and support these initiatives to reduce environmental harm.

Future Advancements in Biodegradable Golf Ball Technology

As the environmental impacts of golf continue to gain attention, innovative companies have been working to develop biodegradable golf ball technology.

Here are some potential future advancements to keep an eye on:

  • Plant-based materials: Companies are testing materials such as cornstarch, potato starch, and soy protein to create biodegradable golf balls that are more eco-friendly.
  • Edible golf balls: While it might seem strange, some companies are exploring the use of edible materials to create biodegradable golf balls. These balls could be made from materials such as rice flour, birdseed, and even fish food.
  • Smart golf balls: In addition to being biodegradable, some companies are also developing “smart” golf balls that can communicate with your smartphone. These balls would be equipped with sensors that track things like distance, speed, and accuracy, sending the information to your device.

While these advancements are promising, there are still challenges to overcome. Below is a table highlighting some of the factors that companies must consider when developing biodegradable golf balls.

Factor Considerations
Permeability Biodegradable golf balls must allow water to permeate in order for bacteria and fungi to break them down.
Sink rate Biodegradable golf balls must sink at a similar rate to traditional balls to avoid impacting play.
Durability Biodegradable golf balls must still be durable enough to withstand the impact of being hit by a club.

With continued research and development, biodegradable golf balls could become a viable solution to the issue of environmental impact in golf.

Consumer responsibility in selecting environmentally-friendly golf products

As consumers, we have the power to make more sustainable choices in the products we purchase and use. When it comes to golf, there are several ways we can exercise this responsibility:

  • Choose biodegradable golf balls: While traditional golf balls can take centuries to decompose, many companies now offer biodegradable options made from materials such as bird food, cornstarch, and recycled rubber. While they may cost a bit more upfront, the environmental impact is worth it.
  • Avoid products with harmful chemicals: Some golf accessories, such as club cleaners and insect repellants, can contain harmful chemicals that can damage the environment. Look for products that are made from natural, non-toxic ingredients.
  • Consider secondhand equipment: Buying secondhand golf clubs and gear not only saves you money, but it also reduces the amount of waste produced by the production of new products.

The cost of eco-unfriendly choices

When we choose non-biodegradable golf balls and other environmentally damaging products, we contribute to the massive amounts of waste produced by the sport. Golf courses generate vast amounts of waste, from plastic water bottles to chemical fertilizers, and the impact on the environment can be severe.

In addition to the damage to the environment, there is also a financial cost to using unsustainable products. For example, golf balls that end up in waterways can harm aquatic life and disrupt delicate ecosystems, leading to costly cleanup efforts. Investing in environmentally-friendly products may require a higher upfront cost, but it can ultimately save money by reducing long-term expenses associated with waste management and environmental cleanup.

The benefits of being environmentally-friendly

In addition to reducing waste and minimizing our impact on the environment, choosing eco-friendly golf products can provide other benefits:

  • Improved playing conditions: Many courses are switching to more sustainable practices, such as using organic fertilizers, which can lead to healthier golf courses and better playing conditions.
  • Enhanced reputation for golf courses: Courses that prioritize sustainability and environmental responsibility can build a positive reputation and attract more environmentally-conscious players.
  • Healthier ecosystem: Using non-toxic products and reducing waste helps preserve the ecosystem and the wildlife that calls it home. This is essential not only for the environment but also for the sport’s future.

The bottom line

Golf can provide a peaceful, enjoyable escape from the stresses of everyday life. However, it’s important to remember that our choices on the course can have a significant impact on the planet. By selecting eco-friendly products and making sustainable choices, we can help ensure that golf remains an enjoyable pastime for generations to come.

Golf Products to Avoid Sustainable Alternatives
Traditional plastic golf balls Biodegradable golf balls made from bird food, cornstarch, or recycled rubber
Harsh chemical cleaners and insect repellants Natural, non-toxic alternatives
New golf clubs and gear Secondhand equipment

It’s up to us as consumers to make responsible choices and prioritize sustainability in all aspects of life, including on the golf course.

FAQs: Why Are Golf Balls Not Biodegradable?

1. Are golf balls made of plastic?

Yes, most golf balls are made of a combination of materials including rubber and plastic, which are not biodegradable.

2. How long does it take for a golf ball to decompose?

It can take hundreds of years for a golf ball to decompose, as they are designed to be durable and withstand the harsh conditions of the golf course.

3. Can golf balls be recycled?

Yes, golf balls can be recycled, but the process is not cost-effective or widely available. Golf courses and manufacturers are working to find more sustainable solutions.

4. What impact do golf balls have on the environment?

Golf balls that end up in bodies of water or natural areas can harm wildlife and disrupt ecosystems. Additionally, the manufacturing process and transportation of golf balls contribute to carbon emissions and resource depletion.

5. Are there any biodegradable options for golf balls?

Some companies have developed biodegradable golf balls made of alternative materials like corn starch, but they are not widely available and may not perform as well as traditional golf balls.

6. How can golfers reduce their impact on the environment?

Golfers can reduce their impact by using fewer balls during a round, properly disposing of old balls, and choosing eco-friendly products like reusable water bottles and biodegradable tees.

Closing: Thanks for reading!

We hope this article has shed some light on why golf balls are not biodegradable and what can be done to reduce their impact on the environment. Remember to choose sustainable products and dispose of old golf balls responsibly. See you next time!