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I love making something useful from items we normally throw away. This week I received a windfall donation: over 20 cases of……empty tennis ball containers! The local tennis clubs consider them large bulky garbage that takes up space and valuable time to dispose. They were overjoyed when they found out that we upcycle empty tennis ball containers.
We’ve been using them for about 10 years in our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to hold small essentials. But they could be utilized by many different ministries and non-profits as well. Packed with school supplies, they become a pencil case; include a comb, toothbrush, soap, bandaids, and small deodorant and they are a hygiene kit. Sewing kits could be stuffed with needles, thread, buttons, and a little fabric. Finally, when empty, these tennis containers could even be used to carry water!
Where to get the empty Tennis Ball Containers:
Tennis Clubs use scores of new tennis balls every year. For each serious match, a new container of balls is opened – the container is thrown away and the balls are used once for the game. Imagine how many containers are going into our landfills! Several of my local clubs have agreed to save the containers for my friends and I. Speak to the manager, explain your project, and you will be surprised at how excited they are to help donate their “trash”. (If you have large tournaments near you, contact the managers well in advance. You might be able to get thousands!)
As an added bonus, we also get donated tennis balls. Several times a season they do a “ball change” and toss the old, but still quite usable, balls. There are often garbage bags full of balls for us to pick up. We wash, dry, and inspect each one. The duds get donated to local animal shelters. However, most of them are usually in “like new” condition and get packed with our other shoebox gifts.
How to Upcycle Empty Tennis Ball Containers:
There are many different brands of balls, and each can or plastic container will give you a new issue to deal with. I prefer the plastic clear containers myself. The first task is to remove the label. They are not usually glued on, but simply wrapped and only require a quick snip to cut them off.
The top metal rim, however, has just a very slight sharp edge. To remedy that, we take a manual can opener and run it once around the top. It’s not “opening” a can, but it easily flattens out the inside edge and makes it smooth. Being naturally lazy, I wanted to skip that step. But with use, putting your hand in and out of the can to grab items, it could cause a sharp cut. Much better safe than sorry! Now – about 3-4 small metal “hairs” tend to drop off and fall inside the container. Wear a glove, and with a damp paper towel, wipe the inside and grab each one to dispose of safely. (Other brands might require pliers to flatten the edge or a little hammer. Experiment with different easy methods to make sure that lip is smooth.)
Now decorate your tennis container. Stickers, permanent markers, colored tape (duct tape), or even tape pictures on the inside are great. My friend purchases colorful small coloring books and just wraps them around the inside before packing the rest of the supplies for her pencil cases. You could even print up a label that says “packed with love” or “sewing kit” or any slogan or instructions for your special needs.
We had so many to fill one year that we held a “tennis ball container” packing party!
What to Pack in Your Tennis Containers:
For our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, we originally used these containers as pencil cases. Since they weren’t full and we still had small items (that could easily get lost), we began to pack as much as it could hold! Here are some ideas. I’ve included some links to Amazon:
- Pens in bulk or a smaller pack
- Colored pencils
- Small pads
- Nail Clippers, or Nail File
- Measuring Tape (we got ours donated from Ikea)
- Small Sewing Kit
- Tennis Ball or Small Ball
- Small Soap
- Toothbrush (Check HERE for my post about the best Toothbrush Deals)
- Foldable airplane
- Small toys – we include this top in every one
- Hot Wheels cars
Here are ideas for a Scout, VBS or Senior Group project:
This would be perfect for a group service project, no matter their ages!
- They could gather, process, and decorate, then donate the empty containers to a local ministry that could pack them as kits for charity
- Pack as hygiene kits and donate to a local homeless shelter or food pantry
- Speak to local businesses for additional donated items to fill the containers: banks for pens, hotels for soap, dentists for toothbrushes, restaurants for crayons, etc.
- Fill them and bring them to a local drop-off location during Operation Christmas Child Collection Week to be sent to the Processing Center as “filler items”
- Organize their own OCC packing party, maybe even inviting other Scout troops or groups to participate