Ever Wonder What Bowling Alleys Do With Old Balls?


Bowling balls are incredibly durable, but even they reach the end of the road. The house balls rented out in bowling alleys get the most abuse, and eventually, they need to be retired. So what can you do with old bowling balls? Can they be recycled?

Old bowling balls, if still useable and not cracked, can be resold or given away. There are also a number of creative ways to upcycle a bowling ball to make gifts or art. However, most balls cannot be taken to a local recycling plant. Many balls end up being thrown out and find their way to landfills.  

It is a pity bowling balls can’t be recycled. Unfortunately, due to the coverstock materials and the overall construction of bowling balls, it is not possible. We all know that landfills are filling up. So where can bowling balls be donated? What can be made from them? 

Where to Sell or Donate Used Bowling Balls?

There are many reasons a person might want to get rid of a perfectly useable bowling ball. Perhaps they used to play but have now moved on. Maybe a recently departed relative left you small collection. This has happened to our family twice (so far.) Or perhaps your ball is now worn down and no longer capable of performing as you desire but is still decent enough for a beginner to use. 

Where to Sell a Used Bowling Ball?

Your local pro shop is probably not going to be willing to take your used ball off your hands. However, there are exceptions, so you can always ask. But there are people who are on the hunt for used bowling balls for either their art project or because they want their own ball but don’t have a lot of spare cash. So consider listing your ball on platforms such as:

  • OfferUp
  • Craigslist
  • LetGo
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Gumtree
  • Decluttr

Where to Donate a Used Bowling Ball?

The easiest thing to do is go to your local bowling alley and ask if they know people or leagues looking for used balls. Leagues for kids and disabled athletes, for example, are often on the lookout for extra equipment. 

Other places to consider:

Schools: Even if the school doesn’t have a bowling team, they may have students who are in a league. Also, many arts and science departments would want the balls. The former can repurpose balls in a variety of ways, and science departments use them to represent planets, such as Jupiter. 

Local VA center: Even if the VA center doesn’t have a bowling league, there are sometimes crafts offered, and they can use them for a variety of projects. 

Shooting ranges: Yeah, some people like to shoot at bowling balls. The debris coming off the shell is an excellent way to hurt yourself, so this isn’t recommended. Shooting a bowling ball is not safe. We’re only saying some people like to do it, and you might know those people, and they might want your ball. 

Retirement center: Again, even if the place doesn’t have members who bowl, they probably have an arts and craft department that could use it. 

Youth Centers: These places might have a kid (or many) that plays the game and want a ball of their very own. Also, these centers often do arts and crafts too. 

Famers: Animals get bored, just like anyone else. If the ball isn’t cracked, a farmer might be interested. Dallas Bowman, a farmer in Iowa, says giving his hogs a bowling ball to play with keeps them from biting and picking on each other. You want happy hogs, don’t you?

Zoos: An article in the Los Angeles Times reported that some zoos use bowling balls and beer kegs to keep lions, tigers, and bears amused. However, as the article mentions, some zoos stopped using them because the balls can break glass display windows and also plugged up some drains. So ask before you dump your ball on your local zookeeper’s doorstep. 

Thrift stores: Not every charity shop or thrift store will accept donated bowling balls, but some do, so ask away. 

And then there’s this…

Many Ways to Use Bowling Balls in Your Garden

Bowling balls can be upcycled to add special touches to your garden or as a gift to your gardening friend.  Here are ten ways to use old bowling balls to add interest and fun to the outside of your property. 

Gazing balls: This popular garden decor can be pricy to buy. However, you could make one for a fraction of the price by making use of an old bowling ball. 

Cover a ball in washers: It looks surprisingly pretty, and the reflective surface will scare birds from your vegetables. 

Cover a ball in pennies: This copper piece will look nice near terracotta pots and set off marigolds. Check out the House of Hawthornes for an example. 

Cover the ball in geckos or building blocks. Click here to see examples. 

Create river pattered swirls with glass rocks. See this tutorial on Crafts a la mode

Mirrored ballThe Garden Glove has a tutorial on how to make it. 

DecoupageMy Repurposed Life has a post to explain how to do this in a way it will withstand the outdoors. There are examples of other designs here

Home Talk made glitzy gazing balls using a variety of techniques, including grouting and painter’s tape. 

House of Hawthornes also has a mosaic tutorial to try. 

Lawn critter art: Garden sculptures can be bought, of course, but where’s the fun in that? 

Here is an upcycled ladybug tutorial from Home Talk

Another person tweaked the Home Talk tutorial and made bees.

Cool Creativity used gazing ball technics to create frogs.

Planters: Instructables use bowling balls as molds for their fun concrete planters. So what to give it a go? The tutorial is here.

Garden edging: A large number of bowling balls can make an eye-catching edging for flower or vegetable beds. You can also make a unique perimeter around a tree. Cutting the bowling balls in half can extend the length if you are caught short. Meanwhile, you can paint them or find other inspiration from the gazing ball tutorials to add a bit of flair to the edging.

Faux-flowers: Don’t have a green thumb? “Plant” your bowling balls in colorful pots to make a nice outdoor decor that never needs to be watered. 

Fencepost topper: Drill out the thumb hole and fit your old bowling balls on the post to create a unique look at a gate entrance or all around. If you paint them like lollipops, it can make a delightful fencepost ring around a children’s outdoor play area. 

Birdbath: Take one of your bowling balls turned gazing ball and set it in the center of a shallow basin to make a pretty and unique birdbath.

Yard art: When Chris Barbee’s wife Carol died, he noticed all these bowling balls she’d left in her rose garden. So he started experimenting with bowling ball art and now welcomes visitors to admire his pieces. You can get inspired by his creations by clicking here.

Bowling Ball Billiards: Rather than going broke buying a fancy giant billiard game, use your old bowling balls (and your friends) to create your own giant billiard court in your yard. After all, why should Hugh Jackman and Jimmy Fallon have all the fun?

Make water features from bowling balls

This tutorial will walk you through making a Bowling Ball Blubbler

Modify this YouTube video’s Zen Garden Water Fountain to use your old bowling ball instead of making one out of concrete. However, you will probably want to paint your ball and the rest of the project to make it blend into a cohesive piece.

Instructables has a tutorial for making a beautiful two-toned water feature using a bowling ball.  

Here is another DIY fountain idea that shoots water from the bowling ball into a birdbath.

12 Bowling Ball Arts and Crafts Projects 

Upcycling and repurposing bowling balls isn’t limited to garden art. There are projects out there that can decorate your home, teach science to your kids, or even add a unique dash of color to an outfit. Take a look at these twelve ideas. 

Solar system: Decorate your young STEM lover’s room with their very own solar system. Painting and decorating the balls will be a fun way to pass a rainy day. 

A bowling ball can also be a great way to provide a visual demonstration of the scale of planets compared to the sun (your bowling ball).  

Make a solar system model using a bowling ball as Jupiter

Resin Rings: Similar to the above, you can use a lathe to make custom-made resin rings from used bowling balls. Watch here to see how these colorful rings are made. Or visit Instructables for step-by-step instructions. 

Earrings, bracelets, and pendants: Similar to resin rings, other jewelry can be made from polished pieces of the outer shell of bowling balls. If you are looking for examples, have a look at Matt Cole Jewelry’s Facebook page for a plethora of gorgeous ideas. 

Serving bowl: If you are skilled at woodturning, you might be able to make a bowl from a bowling ball. This is a wonderful way to turn a ball with great memories into a functional keepsake.

Floating Bowling Balls experiment: More fun with the kids. This experiment uses bowling balls and an aquarium to help teach Archimedes’ Principle. 

Bowling ball curtain: Got space? If you own a gym or have a large home, you can take inspiration from Eung Ho Park and make your own statement-piece bowling ball curtain

Bowling ball coin bank: If you got skills, you could make a child a unique place to store their coins. 

Autumn decor: Turn an old bowling ball into a pumpkin and make it part of a fun seasonal display. Prodigal Pieces has a tutorial. 

FundraisingFor example, the Ampersand Pantry Project asked for donated bowls and gave them to willing artists to make art. The balls were then headed for the auction. Perhaps your area could do something similar for a good cause. 

Skulls: Feeling bold and brave? Then draw inspiration from these fantastic bowling ball skulls and then try your own version with your old ball. 

Lamps: Clever hands can repurpose bowling balls into lamps. Need ideas? See an antique set here.

Can You Repair Your Bowling Ball? 

As mentioned previously, landfills are filling up, and you can’t recycle your bowl ball at a recycling center. Current recycling technology cannot deal with the mixed composition of a bowling ball. The facts, however, don’t stop people from dropping off their old balls at recycling centers. New York City’s main plant receives 1,200 bowling balls a year from misguided people. That’s a lot of gazing ball craft projects. 

Thus, if you are still bowling, it might be worth considering keeping your old ball alive. However, sometimes a ball just needs a good professional clean. You can clean it at home regularly. Or take it to a pro shop to give it well needed TLC.

Small cracks and minor surface damage to bowling balls can sometimes be repaired. Pro shops can provide advice and help. But even at home, trying good sanding and polish can bring some balls back to life. There are also bowling ball repair kits that you can buy that are much cheaper than purchasing a new ball. 

Repairing a bowling ball requires three main steps (detailed in my following posts:) sealing, sanding, and polishing. Read more in my post on repairing cracked bowling balls.

Conclusion

There is no need to throw a bowling ball into the trash. Even if it isn’t in condition to donate to another bowler, there are plenty of DIY projects around to keep them out of the landfill. If that fails, think of that poor bored pig out there dreaming of being given a toy. Who knows, your old ball could bring some hog true joy. 

Tim C, M.D.

My grandfather and my mother both taught me bowling in the early 1970’s. I spent the next few decades working my way up to the top tiers of local amateur bowling leagues, and continued to participate in college at the club level. My wife and bowled in coed leagues before kids, and then taught our kids bowling as they grew up. Now I’m here to answer some of the web’s common questions about bowling rules, techniques, equipment and more. To see more about the site, check our About Page

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