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Saving the Oceans, One Tennis Ball at a Time

Labriola tennis jg 2
Labriola tennis jg 2
Stony Brook University writing and rhetoric professor Joseph Labriola with some of the tennis balls he found on a beach cleanup. Photo by John Griffin

Stony Brook University writing and rhetoric lecturer Joseph Labriola is penning a new chapter in his academic career — that of a beach beautifier and ocean savior.

And we’re not talking a lonely figure combing the shores of Long Island in a one-man war against pollutants. There’s safety and solidarity in numbers for Labriola, who founded the Long Island North Shore Beach Cleaners group, created a beach waste art installation at the Stony Brook Village Center and has even given a TEDx talk on the subject of ocean plastic pollution and environmental advocacy.

A week ago, he announced his new partnership with Wilson — the tennis company — to recycle the balls he finds on beach cleans. Wilson actually reached out to him after seeing his YouTube channel, where he documents some of the beach trash he found.

Wilson, excited to help in Labriola’s efforts to bring awareness to tennis ball ocean pollution, offered to donate recycling bins for his crusade. By recycling these balls via Wilson and their partners at Recycleballs, the outside green-yellow felt is used for horse footing; while the inside rubber core is ground down to make tennis courts.

“This work is vital in removing synthetic polymers and toxic chemicals from marine environments,” Labriola said.

“A half-mile stroll from a beach parking lot can yield more tennis balls — and other trash — than one can carry back. I have begun collecting balls for when my recycling bins arrive. To date I have recovered/planned the following since the pledged contribution by Wilson and Recycleballs.”

His log follows:

  • Day One: Collected 180 tennis balls from McAllister County Park
  • Day Two: Collected 197 tennis balls from West Beach in Port Jefferson, NY
  • Day Three (Planned): Return to McAllister County Park
  • Day Four (Planned): Will host a beach clean event in the near-future where I announce ahead of time for other beachgoers to collect and save tennis balls to then drop off for my bin — culminating in my 1,000 tennis ball collection challenge.

“Long Island has no shortage of shoreline — nor cliffside tennis courts and waterfront dog parks,” said Labriola. “Such areas are prime sources for tennis balls ending up in our oceans. All one needs to do is picture a player accidentally bouncing a serve back over a fence, or a dog too tired to swim out to fetch a ball, and you can imagine how quickly these add up with each season. These balls are then carried by storm runoff and tides to more remote spots along the beach. As such, I have been focusing on these nearby areas where local residents tend not to hike to — and therefore don’t clean — as much.”

Labriola also shares his experiences on Instagram.

“It’s one of Stony Brook’s own making a difference in the community and keeping big business accountable to the planet,” said his former writing student Maria Grima ’18.

“Moving forward, I am excited to record several upcoming YouTube videos chronicling this project’s progress. While these efforts are just another small step in curbing ocean pollution, it is a fantastic initiative to shift our energy and conversations in the right direction via partnerships with big business — one ball at a time,” said Labriola.

— Glenn Jochum

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