Christina Cog dell
1 December 2016
Waste & Emissions of a Basketball
Basketball is one of essential modern sporting goods. Most people probably have played basketball during their school age. Professional games, like NBA, are watched all over the world. A basketball, simple enough, consists of a bladder, a carcass and a cover (“Basketball”). However, few may have thought of the waste and emissions coming out of the life cycle a basketball. In this paper, we will specifically look at basketballs from Spalding, the company created the first basketball and currently supplies balls for NBA. While a basketball only has a few components, the materials and process of making one generate more wastes and emissions beyond one’s expectation. Understanding the wastes and emissions involved in making of a basketball can help one to make better eco-friendly purchase decision and encourage the effort to extend the product’s life span.
The acquisition and processing of a baseball’s raw materials produces various wastes. For instance, the production of butyl rubber used in basketball’s bladder produces solid wastes that are unrecyclable and get purged out with stream of water. Butyl rubber is one of many synthesis rubbers and used in a bladder of a Spalding basketball. The production process requires many steps and begins with crude oil in a refinery, and “coal or other hydrocarbons with naphtha as one of the resulting products” (“Production of Synthetic Rubber”). Butyl rubber consists 98% isobutylene and 2% isoprene and its extraction process includes feed blending, polymerization and stripping unreacted monomers, recycle compression and purification, and finishing. During these processes, the main waste is the solvent consists of methyl chloride, unreacted monomers, and hot water used to flash them. Though some solvent and isobutylene are recycled, there are still impurities are purged out, which produces the solid wastes.
Butyl rubber is not the only raw material of a Spalding basketball that generates waste in its production process. Nylon or polyester used in carcass is another example. Nylon, for instance, is associated with greenhouse emission and depletion of ozone. As one of most useful synthetic materials, nylon originates from coal or petroleum, and the most common one is known as nylon 6,6 (Woodford). Threads made from nylon or polyester are used to stitch bladders together to form a ball shape, and “balls used by professional teams have carcasses constructed of nylon…” (“Basketball”). Nylon 6,6 is probably used in making the carcass of Spalding basketballs, since it is most common type of nylon. According to Thiemens and Trogler, nitrous oxide is a by-product of nylon production process and contributes to ozone destruction (932). Besides nylon, polyester is an alternative choice used for threading when making the carcass of Spalding baseballs. Like nylon, polyester is a synthetic fiber that is made from petroleum and “carbon-based nonrenewable resource” (Edwards). Harmful and possibly carcinogenic chemicals are used in the production of polyester, and they can damage the environment through airborne and waterborne wastes if they are untreated. When one plays basketball, he or she probably would never think about that the ball is related to the emission of airborne wastes that can damage the ozone and the potential of producing carcinogenic waste.
Leather, as the cover of a basketball, is the last major material and produce environmental releases depends on whether it is real or synthetic. Spalding provides balls with real leather cover in official NBA games for better indoor performance, whereas average consumers often purchase less expensive balls with synthetic cover for recreational use. Real leather usually comes from ranch animals, like a cow, and the process of produce one fine piece of leather outputs various wastes that threaten the environment (“Environmental Hazards of Leather”). Animals need farmland that produces their foods or pastureland to be fed. Like growing crops, these lands require considerable amount of energy to be maintain job such as tilling and water irrigation. Using fossil fuels as a source of energy is inevitable. Further, tanning process of turning animal skin has its problems, too. It is necessary because it stops the leather from biodegrading, and the effluent from tanning process into leather produces “large amount of pollutants, such as salt, lime sludge, sulfides, and acid” (“Environmental Hazards of Leather”). Even though real leather is from natural material, the wastes from its production should be a factor when one thinks about buying a basketball with a real leather cover.
In addition to real leather, synthetic leather is commonly used in the cover of a basketball as cheaper alternative. While real leather requires large amount of energy input and produces numerous wastes, synthetic leather appears to be more sustainable. Spalding references a patent by Walker and Baltronis’ basketball design, which has polyurethane cover. Hence, polyurethane is hypothetically used for Spalding’s basketballs with synthetic covers for further discussion. According to American Chemistry Council, polyurethanes result from the reaction of a polyol with a diisocyanate, and their versatility and sustainability are emphasized. While little information about waste from its production process, polyurethanes do need various processing equipment for storage and transferring. For example, polyurethanes’ storage tanks can vary from 55-gallon drums to large bulk storage tank farms. The manufacturing of the equipment such as the tanks and transfer process of polyurethanes must require energy input, which probably comes from fossil fuels. The sustainability of polyurethanes is showed in its versatile application and high recyclability. To put into context, polyurethane covers of a decommissioned basketball can be recycled and extend the material usage, whereas real leather is not reusable after it has been worn out. Hence, the wastes generated along the process and recyclability of the materials used in making of a basketball should be considerable when one would like to reduce the environmental impact.
A common concern to synthetic materials is their recyclability and waste management, since they often have low biodegradability. Although synthetic materials used in a basketball produce number of wastes, they are often recyclable. Polyester, for example, is resistant to environmental breakdown, but it is completely recyclable (Edwards). Recycling of these synthetic materials means that some energy and raw materials use can be eliminated. Further, among all the materials used in making of a basketball, the common trend is that they are all require the inputs of fossil fuels, such as petroleum and coal. Some are used as feedstock, and other is used to provide energy needed to manufacture. Either used directly as raw material or indirectly in form of secondary energy, fossil fuels can result in numerous wastes. The extraction, transportation, burning of fossil fuel generate significant amount of emissions and pollutants that are hazardous to the environment and public health ("The Hidden Costs of Fossil Fuels"). The well-known environmental consequence is global warming. The burning of fossil fuels is the primary contributor to carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are two examples of air pollutants that are associated with respiratory diseases and smog. Although buying a new basketball may not seem a big deal, if all consumers choose to buy balls that last longer and made with materials that generate fewer wastes and emissions, the sum can make positive impact on the environment.
Though a basketball may not seem an energy-consuming product, millions of basketballs are made, and their production process links to wastes and emissions that can make negative impact on the environment. Since most components of a basketball is made from synthetic materials, many of them can be removed from the waste stream and recycled to reduce the energy required extracting the same material again. Nevertheless, not just basketball, the production of any goods in our daily life requires the input of energy, probably in form burning of fossil fuel. Last length, it’s all about how to use energy more efficiently and reduce amount of energy we need to input to make the same products. Simply giving up the product is not realistic for both consumer’s personal and company’s economic interest. Consumers can pay attention to the products they purchase and choose the ones made from materials generate less wastes and emissions. In the end of a product’s life span, recycling is also a significant step consumers can take to reduce the energy consumption of extracting the raw materials. Perhaps, like what Ozzie Zehner said in his book Green Illusions, “the best material consumption is less material consumption.” If everyone on the planet can reduce his or her consumption, fewer wastes and emissions will be released to our threatened environment.
"Environmental Hazards of Leather." PETA. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2016. <http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/leather-industry/leather-environmental-hazards/>.
"Polyurethanes." How Polyurethane Is Made. American Chemistry Council, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2016. <https://polyurethane.americanchemistry.com/How-Polyurethane-is-Made/>
"The Hidden Costs of Fossil Fuels." Union of Concerned Scientists. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016. <http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/hidden-cost-of-fossils#.WDO7pXc-JTY>.
“Basketball.” How Basketball Is Made. Advameg, Inc., 2016. Web. 24 Oct. 2016. <http://www.madehow.com/Volume-6/Basketball.html>.
“History - Spalding.” Spalding Basketball. Spalding, 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. <http://www.spalding-basketball.com/en/about-spalding/history/>.
“Production of Synthetic Rubber.” Simens Process Analytics. Jan 2013. <https://w3.siemens.com/mcms/sensor-systems/CaseStudies/CS_Butyl_Rubber_2013-01_en_Web.pdf>.
Edwards, Summer. "Why Polyester Production Damages the Environment." Peaceful Dumpling. N.p., 19 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. <http://www.peacefuldumpling.com/why-polyester-production-damages-the-environment>.
Thiemens, Mark H., and William C. Trogler. "Nylon production. An unknown source of atmospheric nitrous oxide." Science(Washington) 251.4996 (1991): 932-934.
Walker, Alan D., and Joseph F. Baltronis. "Basketball with polyurethane cover." U.S. Patent No. 5,310,178. 10 May 1994.
Woodford, Chris. "Nylon - The Science of Synthetic Textiles." Explain That Stuff. N.p., 18 June 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. <http://www.explainthatstuff.com/nylon.html>.
Zehner, Ozzie. Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism. Lincoln: U of Nebraska, 2012. Print.