Wimbledon tennis balls serve up vast carbon footprint

The environmental footprint of Wimbledon's tennis balls has been scrutinised by a leading academic who has called it "one of the longest journeys" ever taken for a product.

Dr Mark Johnson, associate professor of operations management at Warwick Business School, has calculated that each tennis ball used at Wimbledon has travelled 50,570 miles around the world before landing on the grass courts.

The balls, supplied by British sports equipment manufacturer Slazenger, fly between 11 countries and across four continents before being manufactured in Bataan in the Philippines. They then travel a further 6,660 miles to the south London venue.

“It is one of the longest journeys I have seen for a product,” Dr Johnson said. “Travelling more than 50,000 miles to make a tennis ball does seem fairly ludicrous, but it just shows the global nature of production these days.”

He added that despite the carbon impact, it was likely the most cost-effective way of making tennis balls.

“Slazenger are locating production near the primary source of their materials, which if you look at most current supply chains today, is not the case.

“Before the financial crash when logistics costs were really high a lot of firms did this, but now it is not so common.

“But the tennis ball provides Slazenger with the perfect synchronisation of materials produced at a very low cost near to the manufacturing labour in the Philippines, which is also at very low cost.”

According to the analysis, the complex supply chain sees clay shipped from South Carolina in the USA, silica from Greece, magnesium carbonate from Japan, zinc oxide from Thailand, sulphur from South Korea and rubber from Malaysia to Bataan where the rubber is vulcanised.

Wool then travels from New Zealand to Stroud in Gloucestershire, where it is turned into felt and then sent back to Bataan in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, petroleum naphthalene from Zibo in China and glue from Basilan in the Philippines are brought to Bataan where Slazenger manufactures the ball. Finally tins are shipped in from Indonesia and once the balls have been packaged they are sent to Wimbledon.

Maxine Perella

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