Garden and Yard Care Golf balls take between a century and millennium to decompose.

Published on November 13th, 2009 | by Jennifer Lance

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Golf Balls Take 1000 Years to Decompose

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Golf is a popular leisure sport in the United States and Europe among the middle and upper class.  Golf courses are often criticized by environmentalists for their use of water, fertilizers, and pesticides.  Sure, golf carts are electric vehicles; however, “The extensive use of pesticides on golf courses raises serious questions about people’s toxic exposure, drift over neighboring communities, water contamination, and effects on wildlife and sensitive ecosystems,” according to Beyond Pesticides.  Now the attention towards greening golf has shifted to the golf balls themselves, which can take 1000 years to decompose.

Photo by subzeroconsciousnessGolf balls take between a century and millennium to decompose.

Golf balls take between a century and millennium to decompose.

Golf balls are often lost by players, in fact there are a few lost in my own meadow and I don’t even play golf.  Live Science reminds us that in 1971,  Alan Shepard even left some on the moon ( two or three golf balls).  Golf ball litter is becoming an environmental concern on this planet. CNN reports:

Research teams at the Danish Golf Union have discovered it takes between 100 to 1,000 years for a golf ball to decompose naturally. A startling fact when it is also estimated 300 million balls are lost or discarded in the United States alone, every year…The scale of the dilemma was underlined recently in Scotland, where scientists — who scoured the watery depths in a submarine hoping to discover evidence of the prehistoric Loch Ness monster — were surprised to find hundreds of thousands of golf balls lining the bed of the loch.

Not only do golf balls take between a century and millennium to break down, they release toxic zinc in the process. This heavy metal attaches “itself to the ground sediment and poisoned the surrounding flora and fauna” when in water. Other heavy metals used in golf ball production include tungsten, cobalt and lead.

There are solutions to the golf ball litter problem, as well as the pesticide use on the fairway.  Biodegradable, non-toxic golf balls are available. Perhaps land courses should follow in the footsteps of MARPOL treaty, which banned the practice of hitting toxic golf balls into the sea, Requiring only non-toxic biodegradable balls on the course would be a step in the right direction.  We can’t do anything about the golf balls left on the moon, which are thought to have already degraded from the moon’s extreme temperatures, but we can do something about the golf balls on planet earth.





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About the Author

Jennifer lives on 160 acres off-the-grid in a home built with her own two hands (and several more skilled pairs of hands) from forest fire salvaged timber. Her home is powered by a micro-hydro turbine, and she has been a vegetarian for 21 years. Jennifer graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in art education and has been teaching art to children for over 16 years. She also spent five years teaching in a one-room schoolhouse before becoming the mother of two beautiful children. Jennifer has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and is currently teaching preschool, as well as k-8 art. She enjoys writing, gardening, hiking, practicing yoga, and raising four akitas. Jennifer is the founder and editor of Eco Child's Play (http://ecochildsplay.com) "I’ve always been concerned about the earth and our impact upon it. Now that I have children, I feel compelled to raise them with green values. From organic gardening to alternative energy, my family tries to leave a small carbon footprint." Please visit my other blog: http://reallynatural.com



23 Responses to Golf Balls Take 1000 Years to Decompose

  1. Pingback: Today’s Top 7 Reads From Elsewhere: | The Anime Blogger

  2. joe blow says:

    who cares.
    you wanna save the earth, go out and invent something that does it, instead of bitching about it.

  3. finn says:

    5 seconds to disappear but 1000 years to decompose

  4. Andy14094 says:

    Oh my GOD! I just ate a Cold-EEZE throat lozenge! It’s just LOADED with Zinc!

    Am I going to die?

  5. gizmo-guy says:

    It should be mentioned in the article that there is an entire industry devoted to finding and reselling lost golf balls. Googling ‘lost golf balls”, looking in the bin at any pro-shop, or a cursory search of ebay’s auctions shows that a significant percentage of lost balls are recovered by this scrappy industry.

  6. common sense says:

    Pennies are made out of 97.5% zinc. Probably more out there 3 million out there. Let’s bitch about that next

  7. thethinker says:

    yea all that zinc kills grass. that must be why golf courses are so brown and dreary. oh and pennies are almost entirely zinc and 4x more of them are lost or discarded. nice scienceing there cratesfield.

  8. joe the plumber says:

    Course manager for the Danish Golf Union, Torben Kastrup Petersen, said the scale of the problem is unknown: “There has been very little research on the environmental impact of golf balls, but it’s safe to say the indicators are not good. We are planning to collaborate with environmentalists in America to conduct more tests to fully explore the extent of the problem.”*

    *From the CNN article you cite as scientific research. Which isn’t really research at all. Or even from a scientist.

  9. steaky says:

    Joe sure Blows. Im pretty sure the author invented the article to let people know about alternative golf balls that were invented to save the earth.

    I hope high school goes well for you, Joe.

  10. mal says:

    Golf Balls are made up primarily of carbon.

    By losing golf balls we are storing that carbon in the ground for 1000 years rather than releasing it into the atmosphere to contribute to global warming.

    Same goes for plastic bags vs recyclable bags

  11. Cheep says:

    is it really that difficult to make a environmentally safe golf ball

  12. RDW says:

    First, I don’t buy the argument that golf balls take 100+ years to decompose. Prove in _real_ world circumstances. I’ve found hundreds of golf balls that have already partially decomposed – and they are on golf courses that are less than 10 years old (and I’d bet the actual golf balls I found were less than 1 year old – considering the models and brands). So I just don’t buy into the hype about this.

    Second, the environmental movement has continuously made a big deal about ‘releases toxins into the environment’, as though anything that could be toxic in concentrated amounts is – by definition – toxic. That is simply not true. Toxicity is a measure of both dose and level of affect on a given organism. Even water is toxic in high enough doses. (But you don’t hear environmentalists harping on the toxic effects of water on the environment because everyone would simply laugh at them.) Fear mongers use the general ignorance of basic science to spread this sort of scare to a bunch of people who don’t know any better.

    Third, the amount of Zinc, Tungsten or Lead in a golf ball is so minute as to be nearly immeasurable. By volume, the amount released by decomposing golf balls would be indistinguishable from the background noise of all the other minerals in a given area. Add to that the slow decay (even over 1 year) of golf balls, and their relatively small size – and you could take _ALL_ of the lost golf balls (world wide) in a given year and place them a single local water supply without an measurable affect of the safety of the water. I know I wouldn’t have any trouble drinking from it.

    I dare say – you scare mongers need to stop this silliness.

  13. Dane says:

    Cheep suggested that it should not be that hard to make an environmentally safe golf ball. That is true, but to make one that performs with the best golf balls on the market was more of a challenge. Check out what we have done at Dixon Golf to make it possible. We are addressing this very problem. No matter how small the impact, it is worth doing something about.

  14. don says:

    why don’t you people do something about world hunger instead of crying and hastling golfers. You don’t see us bothering people about baseballs, hockey pucks, basket balls, volley balls, soccer balls, etc taking time to disintegrate, so get off the pot and do something constructive.

  15. Benjamin says:

    I gather from the comments,that we have some golfers here.Well,no matter how trivial you may consider the “dangers” of golfballs,its still a sport that is bad for the environment and wasteful.Golf courses take up many acres better used for other things,like nature preserves or organic farms,or whatever.Why spend the money and consume the resources and pollute the ecology just to create an enormous space to hit a silly white ball around?

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  18. golfgirl says:

    To all you people who is asking if the’ll die because they ate zinc or touched zinc, not all zinc is safe. The one in this article is toxic zinc which is totally different from the one we need. There’s zinc in sunscreen, are we intoxicated by sunscreen? Not exactly. So stop complaining about this article, it just shows how long it takes for a golf ball to decompose.

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