Bridgestone Granted Biodegradable Golf Ball Patent
A golf ball which reduces the impact on the environment is provided. The golf ball, which may be a one-piece ball or a ball having a core and a cover of one or more layer, is composed at least in part of a biodegradable material.
The patent explains:
Prior-art golf balls include one-piece balls, two-piece balls, three-piece balls, and multi-layer balls having an even larger number of layers. Concrete materials used in such golf balls include, as core materials: thermoplastic elastomers such as natural rubber, butadiene rubber, isoprene rubber and styrene-butadiene rubber; and as cover materials enclosing the core: thermoplastic resins such as ionomers, polyamides, polyesters, polyetheresters, polyetheramides and thermoplastic polyurethanes, and thermoset resins such as polyureas, thermoset polyurethanes, epoxy resins, polyphenols, polysilicones and urea-melamine resins. These golf balls are mass-produced by processes such as injection molding and compression molding in a volume of some hundreds of millions of balls annually.
Used golf balls are generally disposed of in a landfill or incinerated, although a certain proportion of golf balls end up as lost balls or are otherwise abandoned to the environment. Because the above materials used as ingredients of golf balls are unlikely to be biodegradable to any substantial extent, there is some concern over the adverse impact of such abandoned golf balls on the environment. JP-A 7-213204, JP-A 2001-192023 and JP-A 2003-284800 indicate the use of biodegradable materials in the production of fishing gear, boxes for packaging golf balls, and shuttlecocks. Yet, when it comes to golf balls produced in a larger volume than these other products, there exists an unmet need for the development of technology to manufacture golf balls not harmful to the environment.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
It is therefore an object of the invention to provide golf balls having a lower impact on the environment.
It was found that by consisting of a biodegradable material as at least one ingredient of a golf ball, and particularly by forming a golf ball using a biodegradable material designed as a mixture of a biodegradable compound with, for example, a thermoplastic resin in a specific form to compatibilize both ingredients in a ratio, the formation of a golf ball not harmful to the environment can be achieved.
Accordingly, the invention provides a golf ball composed of a biodegradable material as at least an ingredient of the golf ball. Preferably, the golf ball is a one-piece golf ball composed of the biodegradable material, or a golf ball consisted of a biodegradable material as at least an ingredient of both a core and a cover of one layer or multi-layers.
In one aspect of the invention, the biodegradable material includes at least one ester group-containing biodegradable compound.
In another aspect of the invention, the biodegradable material includes at least one ester group-free biodegradable compound.
The biodegradable material of either of the foregoing aspects of the invention is also a mixture of the biodegradable compound with a thermoplastic resin, a thermoplastic elastomer and/or a thermoset resin.
It is preferable for the mixture prepared by blending the biodegradable compound with a thermoplastic resin, thermoplastic elastomer and/or thermoset resin in a weight ratio, described as (biodegradable compound)/(total amount of thermoplastic resin, thermoplastic elastomer and thermoset resin), of from 5/95 to 95/5. The mixture has an interpenetrating polymer network structure.
Acushnet’s Golf Ball Recycling Program
 In one example, golf ball manufacturers 100 can sell golf balls directly to golfers 300 through direct distribution channels 10, direct mail orders, catalog orders, Internet orders or phone orders. In another example, golf ball manufacturers 100 sell or convey golf balls to golf facilities 200, such as golf courses, pro-shops, driving ranges, or professional golf tournaments, and these golf facilities would then sell the golf balls to golfers 300. In another example, golf ball manufacturers 100 sell or convey golf balls to sporting goods stores, or department stores with a sporting goods department, other retail stores 400, and golfers 300 or other consumers would then purchase golf balls at the sporting goods stores and department stores.
 In an embodiment of the present invention, reverse distribution channels 40 and 50 are provided to golfers 300 and golf facilities 200 to return used golf balls back to golf ball manufacturers 100. Alternatively, in this embodiment, golf manufacturers 100 can use dynamic distribution channel 60 to convey golf balls to golf facilities 200 under a lease, buy-back, or service agreement. Subsequently, golf facilities 200 use dynamic distribution channel 60 to return used golf balls back to original manufacturers 100 for recycling.
 In another embodiment, golf balls comprising 100% thermoplastic polymers are either returned to their original manufacturers 100 or third-party recyclers for complete recycling.
 In each embodiment, the golf facilities 200 or golfers 300 receive a reward for golf balls returned.
 FIG. 2 provides an overview of a golf ball’s life-cycle 500. In a first stage 510, the raw materials used to produce golf balls are acquired by manufacturers 100. The raw materials typically include but are not limited to thermoset polymers, thermoplastic polymers, and additives. Significant amounts of fossil fuel energy must be expended in order to extract, transport, and process such raw materials. Similarly, in a second stage 520, manufacturers 100 transform the raw materials into golf balls using manufacturing processes that further expend fossil fuel energy. Because fossil fuel energy is required for raw material acquisition as well as manufacturing, both stage 510 and stage 520 emit greenhouse gases that adversely affect the environment.
 In third stage 530, the golf balls are used by golfers 300, who directly or indirectly purchase the golf balls from golf manufacturer 100 as illustrated in FIG. 1, where golf ball manufacturers 100 use forward distribution channels 10-30 to convey golf balls to golf facilities 200 or golfers 300.
 At the end of third stage 530, a golf ball can meet one of several fates. First, a golf ball can be discarded or become lost. A golf ball can become temporarily lost (e.g., within a golf course hazard), recovered, and re-used in life-cycle stage 535. However, a recovered hazard ball may exhibit poor performance due to its exposure to water, which can adversely affect the ball’s compression, coefficient of restitution, weight, radius, and molecular structure. Moreover, hazard balls are also eventually discarded or lost. Such discarded or lost golf balls are handled, in a fourth stage 540, by a known waste management method such as depositing golf balls into a landfill. A golf ball’s entry into fourth stage 540 can cause environmental concern because many golf balls contain thermoset polymers that do not degrade quickly. Moreover, for every discarded golf ball, golfers 300 or golf facilities 200 are likely to acquire a new golf ball produced by methods that deplete natural resources and emit greenhouse gases, as discussed above.
 Alternatively, after the end of stage 530, stage 535 or stage 540, golf balls can advantageously enter into recycling stage 550. As illustrated in FIG. 3, which depicts the universal symbol of recycling, life-cycle stage 550 involves three distinct phases: collecting and processing the golf balls in phase 550a; recycling the golf balls in phase 550b; and selling recycled products in phase 550c. These phases 550a-550c generally use less natural resources and fossil fuel energy than stages 510 and 520, since in step 550b the core layer(s) and optionally at least some of the cover are saved and reused, as discussed in the Morgan patent. Phases 550a-550c produce balls that resemble newly manufactured golf balls.
 Heretofore, there has been no effective method for the collection and processing of golf balls in phase 550a. More particularly, in phase 550a, there has been no effective channel for golfers 300 or golf facilities 200 to return worn or used golf balls back to manufacturers 100 for recycling. The present invention is advantageous because it provides reverse distribution channels 40-60 through which golf balls can be returned for recycling in phase 550b, wherein one recaptures as much of the used golf balls as possible. Thereby, golf facilities 200 and golfers 300 along with golf manufacturers 100 can effectively share in the environmental stewardship of golf balls. Because this shared environmental stewardship, also known as extended product responsibility, is facilitated by reverse distribution channels 40-60, the present invention represents a significant advance in the art of golf ball recycling.
 In a first embodiment of the present invention, reverse distribution channels 40 and 50 are utilized by golfers 300 and golf facilities 200 to return used golf balls back to their original manufacturers 100. Generally, in reverse distribution channel 40, golfers 300 return used golf balls to golf facilities 200. Subsequently, as discussed in greater detail below, the golf facilities 200 sort the collected used golf balls according to the proper manufacturer 100. Next, in reverse distribution channel 50, golf facilities 200 return the sorted golf balls back to original manufacturers 100.
If you just can’t stop reading, check out the full published application HERE; and no, I did not make up the part about the kiosks. Check this out.
 One way that individual golfers 300 can return used golf balls to original manufacturer 100 is through retail collecting stations, such as kiosks at golf facilities 200 or shopping malls or at selected locations in cities. Such kiosks would have an automatic sorter, such as the ones discussed above and described in the ‘592 patent. After the balls are sorted by original manufacturer and brands, and un-recyclable balls or balls belonging to other manufacturers may be rejected, the kiosks can provide the recyclers a receipt for the balls returned or a recycling credit. The amount of credit would depend on the quality of the brand and the quantity of balls returned. The kiosks may also provide the credit through emails or other electronic means. Alternatively, the kiosks may also carry newly manufactured or newly recycled balls and may exchange new balls for recycled balls. The kiosks may also represent points-of-sale for new golf balls with or without recycling.