Sports Equipment Upcycling: A Call Out to Junk Loving Creatives

Recycled sports equipment

Last year we published an article on Australia’s waste statistics, and the numbers are pretty confronting. The solution is not simple with so many blended materials requiring different treatment and processing.

Our focus here at The Junk Map is to promote creative re-use, make it easy for people to find salvage yards, second hand stores, skilled builders and craftsmen that use reclaimed materials. While sports gear is a little outside our area of expertise, we’re very happy to share this call-out from Game On Recycling who are tackling this unspoken issue behind our love of sports in Australia.

Game On Recycling Pilot Program

March, 2023 – Annabel Sides, Game on Recycling

We are looking for creatives to be part of finding re-use and upcycling solutions for worn out sports equipment, in particular snow sports gear.

Every year Australians take to ovals, courts, pools and the Australian Alps to participate in sport. And every year thousands of items and thousands of tonnes of new sports gear is imported to support participation, fandom and performance. Eventually this gear finds its way off the slopes and out of backyards, ball bags, homes and storerooms and into landfill.

Game On Recycling, a nation-wide sports equipment recycling pilot program, funded through the Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform (ANZRP), Amer Sports Australia, and the Federal Government’s National Product Stewardship Investment Fund, has been testing solutions for collecting, reusing, processing, and recycling sports equipment. The pilot has collected equipment that is worn out, has been superseded or is simply unloved or not needed anymore. The pilot has focused on tennis balls, inflates (like soccer and netballs) and snow sports equipment.

Discarded sports equipment that makes its way into landfill can take generations to break down and cause problems for the natural environment. Equipment that does not make it into landfills ends up in our bushland, water ways and eventually our oceans. Plastic components break down into smaller and smaller parts and eventually become microplastics. Ingested by terrestrial and marine life, including humans, plastics are damaging to the health and survival of many species.

Although not all components to sports equipment can be recycled, there are recoverable materials such as aluminium, steel, rubber and some plastics that can enter the recycled commodities market.

So, just how much gear is there?

Snow sports gear includes helmets, visors, bindings, skis, snowboards, poles and boots. Over the last five years an average of 49,000 pairs of new skis alone have been imported into Australia, equalling 700 tonnes of materials. The total volume of all items of snow sports equipment imported over the past 5 years is close to 2000 tonnes. In the same period over 40 million tennis balls and 36 million inflates arrived, match ready for us to fuel our love of sport. (ABS, Customised report, 2022)

Our pilot snow gear collection points included retailers, hire providers, resorts and transfer stations, mainly throughout the Alpine region. Other equipment has been collected in clubs and schools, during sport events, at transfer stations, charity shops, retailers, workplaces and by individuals.

Gear that is still fit for purpose has been given a second life through our charity partners to support sports participation and outreach programs.

Processing has taken place with our recycling partners. Some materials recovered through processing go to the recycled commodities market (for example aluminium). We are also testing materials for downstream uses, including downcycling and re-manufacture and we are still working on this. Snow sports equipment is difficult to recycle due to the complex nature of the product assembly and the manual disassembly required to separate materials. The materials we have found in skis and snowboards include aluminium, TPU foam, polyethylene and wood. Other equipment contains a variety of plastics, foams, nylon, graphite and small amounts of carbon fibre.

The Game On Recycling pilot phase finishes at the end of March 2023 and there is one solution there is still scope to explore – Upcycling.

So this is a call to action, to you, the Junk Map creatives and solutionists…Can you help us find ways to upcycle worn out sports equipment, in particular old skis and snowboards?

We have been thinking garden beds and coat racks but we lack the skills and (quite possibly) the imagination to give it a go.

Recycled sports equipment

Upcycled basketballs by Most Valuable Planters (MVP)

You can find inspiration from Most Valuable Planters who take upcycling seriously. Most Valuable Planters collect old basketballs and give them new value as a planter. These creations fill homes and offices with a talking point and a little bit of nature. MVP are reducing pressure on the environment, one ball at a time.

If you would like to have a go at putting sports gear back into the field of play we’d love to hear from you. We may be able to provide you with materials in the pilot phase (before the end of March) and will be happy to share your ideas through our blog.

Please contact Coral East at ANZRP by 28th March 2023 to access materials before they go to the shredder for processing, or to pass on your ideas.

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