As part of a Serie Highlighting the work of young people to address the climate crisis, writer Patricia Lane interviews Cooper Waisberg, a young man who raises money for the blind by reusing used tennis balls that were previously sent to landfill.
Cooper and Ethan Waisberg love playing tennis almost as much as they love their grandmother. After he was diagnosed with glaucoma and faced possible blindness, the brothers wanted to help. Ethan is a medical student with a passion for improving global eye health. Nineteen-year-old Cooper is a student who spent his 18th birthday delivering groceries to blind people. He is concerned about planetary health and hopes to make environmental law one of the focuses of his career. Together, Ethan and Cooper established Balls 4 Eyeballs, an initiative to reuse some of the 300 million tennis balls a year that end up in landfills and raise funds to help fight blindness.
I chatted with Cooper Waisberg at the end of his exciting summer organizing Balls 4 Eyeballs, which saw him driving through Ontario collecting used tennis balls.
Tell us about your project.
Anyone who plays tennis loves the sound and smell of opening a pressurized can of new balls. But serious players know that new balls lose some of their bounce in a couple of hours. In many cases, that means a new can of three balls at a time. But what about the used ones?
At first, my grandmother’s eye disease and my older brother’s interest in ophthalmology didn’t seem to have anything to do with tennis. But we were raised to be careful about throwing things, including tennis balls, which last 400 years in a landfill. Ethan inspired me to collect used glasses from my high school classmates so I can take them on medical eye health missions abroad with Medical Ministry International. It felt great to know that these perfectly good glasses were improving other people’s lives. I was wondering if we could find a way to market recycled tennis balls and donate the money for eye health, in honor of our grandmother.
We asked local tennis clubs and a tennis store if they would collect used balls, which we would resell at a much lower price than new ones and use the proceeds to help fund eye health. The response has been overwhelmingly positive!
“Follow your passions. Small contributions add up to big changes. If tennis is your passion, help us build Balls 4 Eyeballs and make this a youth-led movement much bigger than us,” says Cooper Waisberg. #HealthEyes
We now have over 30,000 balls in our garage and basement and our task is to expand the markets for them.
We have buyers from local schools who put them under the legs of chairs for quieter classrooms, and from the cricket and baseball communities who love to use balls for practice.
Tennis players also use them to practice serve for their ball machines and for kids or beginner lessons where lower ball pressure doesn’t matter. Used tennis balls are also great for gym class and ball hockey. Pool owners use balls to trap oils from the surface. And inside the home, tennis balls can be used to protect children’s sharp edges, protect floors from furniture scratches, remove scuff marks, and reduce the use of toilet water by floating one in the tank. . With an open cut, they make great jar openers and, with a little imagination, great wallets.
What makes this project difficult?
We need to help raise awareness that tennis balls need to be reused. In some places, lightly used tennis balls with many other potential uses are being ground into crumb rubber for tennis or riding courts, artificial turf, and play areas. This makes no sense! Tennis ball production leaves a huge environmental footprint with its rubber, petrochemicals, glue, and other toxins. Grinding them into granulated rubber allows these toxins and microplastics to be released into the environment. Given the environmental hazard, we are much more interested in promoting the reuse of balls.
How did the way you were raised impacted you?
One summer, when I was just five years old at a tennis camp, we started throwing used tennis balls in the trash for fun. Our coach stopped us and showed us how to use tennis balls to make fun crafts, such as people or animals (glue eyes, hats, ears, etc. on them and decorate them), crowns and cut slots to make coins. Headlines. He let us take some home and suggested we use them for gate hockey, baseball, and for our pets. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this lesson affected me deeply.
What do you care about?
I think that many people are not aware of the urgency of the environmental crisis that we face.
What gives you hope?
It feels great that so many people are so excited about our project and want to help.
Is there anything you would like to say to older people?
Their advice and wisdom are helpful to younger generations, although we may not always appreciate them at the time. Don’t be afraid to give us the guidance we so desperately need.
Do you have any advice for other young people?
Follow your passions. Small contributions add up to big changes. If tennis is your passion, come help us build Balls 4 Eyeballs and make this a youth-led movement much bigger than us!
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