TACOMA, Wash. -- We know the importance of recycling and reusing -- many of us recycle and reuse glass bottles, aluminum cans and paper bags. But one man in our area has found a new purpose for reusing used rubber golf grips.
And now those used rubber grips are being used to help the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team while helping the environment at the same time.
For quite some time the old dugout flooring in Tacoma`s Cheney Stadium just wasn't cutting it.
“For some reason the flaps keep flapping up,” said Isaiah Dowdell, stadium operations manager. “A lot of material gets underneath that flooring. The rubber will expand, we'll get water. Obviously in Tacoma it rains a lot.”
And since the flooring was damaged, it became a safety concern for the players.
“Believe or not, one of our biggest challenges has been our dugout flooring,” said Dowdell.
That's where Vito DeSantis comes in. DeSantis was a golf director at a local course. And one day, he saw one of his assistants re-gripping a golf club and throwing away the used rubber grip.
You see, a few years ago, he was a golf director at a local course.
“I sat down and thought, this doesn`t seem right,” he said. “We`re supposed to be good stewards to the environment and recycling. And here we are throwing rubber away.”
He then put out a box with a sign that read “used rubber grips” outside of his office.
“Within a month or so this box was full of grips,” said DeSantis.
One box filled soon became two, and soon several boxes of used rubber grips filled his office.
But now what.
“So, I just started experimenting. I ripped a grip in half, threw it through my paper shredder at work, it fed into the basket and it looked like rubber mulch that you buy at a big box store,” DeSantis said.
At first, nobody wanted the used rubber mulch.
But after several months of researching, Vito found a company in Canada that agreed to combine the mulched used rubber from golf grips into mats.
Vito’s company, Grips Fore Good, was born. After collecting him at his course, he went out collecting used rubber golf grips during major events, like the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
“The mats are made of up 50% of recycled rubber grips. The other part is virgin rubber or tire rubber,” said DeSantis.
Vito typically receives 500-600 pounds of used rubber golf grips a week.
Since Grips Fore Good launched in 2015, DeSantis has formed partnerships with many golf courses in the area and the country. For example, Golf Pride in North Carolina sends his used rubber golf grips. He estimates that without projects like this, 7 million pounds of used rubber golf grips would end up in landfills or incinerated.
“Every one of these tiles will be unique,” he said. “It won`t be 100% red, or blue, or black. That color in there is all the grips that you see.”
Eventually, Vito showed these to the Rainiers after hearing about the dugout issues. The team tested out a small section last year and it worked great.
Now both dugouts will have the new mats this year.
“I don`t know if any other team has done this yet, so it'll be kind of unique to see,” said Dowdell.
DeSantis said he hopes to take his company nationwide someday.
As for the dugout flooring at Cheney Stadium, it will be used for the first time this Friday during a Seattle Sounders match.