TPU Bubble Soccer Ball or PVC Bubble Soccer Ball?

So you’ve decided to purchase a Battle Ball®, what’s next?  The next question you will have to answer is whether you want to purchase a “PVC bubble soccer ball” or “TPU bubble soccer ball.”

PVC stands for “polyvinyl chloride,” and TPU stands for “thermoplastic polyurethane.”  Both words are really just fancy words to describe what type of plastic the ball is constructed from.  From an operational perspective, PVC is your “occasional use ball,” whereas TPU is the “industrial ball,” and is more durable for heavier use for corporate events, rentals and leagues.

Obviously, there are further details on the  subjective and objective differences between PVC and TPU.

Durability:  TPU is a more durable plastic than PVC.  The polymer bond in TPU is more pliable, it will not crease like PVC.  Although it is more pliable, TPU Battle Balls are also stronger; less resistant to mechanical failure than PVC balls over time.

Price: TPU balls are ~$70 more per ball than PVC Balls.  When looking at it from a business perspective, an operator will have to take into account a few variables of budget, market entry and intended use.

If an operator is looking at budget considerations, the less expensive PVC may be the best choice. 

A lot of operators will look to “test” their market with the less expensive PVC balls to gauge market demand, and then “upgrade” equipment as rental requests increase.  From experience in the rental markets, we decided to initially “go to market” with PVC balls first.  Two years ago we upgraded rental operators to  the TPU balls and haven’t looked back.

Cold Weather: Here is the kicker, TPU is less prone to temperature extremes than PVC.  I am often asked by customers, can you use the balls in snow?  I respond with, “definitely not the PVC balls,” but “yes for TPU balls, with a caveat.”

PVC gets “brittle” in cold weather.  We do not recommend using PVC in cold.  Ever.  If you are below 50 degrees and creeping towards the 40’s put them away, or move indoors.

TPU plastic does not get brittle in cold weather.  You can use TPU balls in snow, kind of.  While the plastic does not get brittle, most ball valves are made from a hardened plastic and will get brittle in cold, and the valves may potentially break.  Rope straps, where the internal straps connect to the ball may weaken in cold.  So can you use the balls in cold weather, yes.  But with caveats.

Health considerations.  While PVC is used ubiquitously in a medical setting, anything from IV drip bags to other medical devices.  In July of 2002, the FDA released a statement about PVC’s use and health concerns, advising to “reduce the risk of exposure [to PVC] in certain populations.”

“PVC is a plastic polymer that is used in a wide array of products. Unplasticized PVC is hard and brittle at room temperature. A plasticizer (softener) is typically added to increase the flexibility of the polymer. DEHP is the plasticizer for most PVC medical devices.”

http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/AlertsandNotices/PublicHealthNotifications/ucm062182.htm

DEHP is considered a “phalate,” which is an ester of phthalic acid.  And as my grandma used to say, “if you can’t pronounce it, it can’t be good for you!”  She would extend the same reasoning to food ingredients.

The general consensus in the medical community is that prolonged or increased exposure to phalates are not good for our health.  However, it is difficult to escape exposure when the chemical can be found in everything from water bottles to garden hoses.

TPU on the other hand is generally considered to be a “safer” plastic when it comes to health.  One easy way to tell whether a ball is made of PVC or TPU is by the smell.  PVC “smells” like plastic, whereas TPU is odorless.

The Environment.  Finally, you will find a lot of articles about PVC and how  bad it can be for the environment.  DEHP is not chemically bound into the PVC polymer matrix and can migrate out of the polymer and into the environment.  So PVC in products can lead to DEHP in our water supply. 

As an operator and a company, Battle Balls supports recycling of used, non-functional equipment.  Regardless of the plastic or product you choose, we encourage you to recycle used (decommissioned) equipment responsibly.  You can find a list of local recycling facilities here: http://www.plasticsrecycling.org/state-recycling/general-recycling

The sun, the mighty oxidizer.  Ok, so you’re liking what you hear about TPU plastic.  It’s almost too good to be true!  Well, one small caveat.  The one check in the “plus column” for PVC, aside from cost, is that the plastic is UV resistant.  The ball will not “oxidize,” or change color over time.  Whereas, the TPU balls will begin to “yellow,” over time when used outdoors.  Oxidation will not prematurely degrade the plastic integrity over the ball’s lifecycle, but it does look strange.  When used a lot in the sun, the TPU plastic begins to look like someone rubbed a handful of dandelions over your ball. 

As an operator, it may be important to communicate to customers with the TPU ball that, “it’s not dirty, it’s just been ‘kissed’ by the sun.”

Pro Tip: Not all PVC or TPU plastic is alike.  As a manufacturer, our balls are not the cheapest in the market.  However, there is a reason.  Our plastic is virgin PVC and TPU, which means it is not recycled and does not have impurities.  Other manufacturers may sell less expensive balls, but most, if not all, are using inferior raw materials.  We encourage customers to do their research and look at all considerations before selecting the highest quality, safest and best overall product for their needs.