By Chris Bawden ~
Disc golf prides itself on being in touch with nature and treading lightly on the planet. It’s not surprising that eco-friendly discs have become a common offering across disc manufacturers. But what does eco-friendly disc golf mean and are eco-friendly discs worth throwing?
Eco-friendly is a general term for any disc golf disc that is supposedly better for the environment than a normal plastic disc. The main type is made of recycled plastic, which can either be made of recycled discs (recycled), or post-consumer waste (organic). Both recycled and organic discs have unique characteristics that make them stand apart from standard plastic disc golf discs.
There is also the less common biodegradable plastic, which appears to have been completely discontinued from all manufactures at this point.
Recycled discs are known for their shorter break-in period. If you are new to disc golf, it helps to know that discs break in as they are used, and this changes the flight path. Many disc golfers prefer the extra turn and glide offered by broken in discs, but this can take months or more. Recycled plastic discs are often closer to that desired flight path right out of the box, or should at least take less time to break in.
An additional benefit is superior grip. Plastics such as Dynamic Discs BioFuzion is often considered to be easier to grip with your fingertips. A few years back, the DG Puttheads ordered a box of custom stamped discs for a tournament which included BioFuzion Thiefs. These were the most popular disc chosen for the tournament. I did not find Biofuzion plastic to be much grippier than other plastics, but it was somewhat softer which did improve the grip.
The primary disadvantage to recycled plastic is its lower durability. This allows it to break in quicker, but it also decreases the lifespan of the disc and potentially gives it an inconsistent flight path. For this reason, recycled discs are often less expensive.
Organic discs are usually made with recycled rubber. The main benefit of this rubber is superior grip. I putted with an Organic Magic by Gateway for many years and can attest to its grip.
Gateway has this to say about their Organic material: “A combination of recycled rubbers and renewable resources (corn-based biopolymer) creating an Eco-Friendly product!”
Unlike Vibram’s smooth rubber material, organic has a more traditional and unpolished rubber feel. This material is grippy in all conditions and one of my favorites to this day. But be careful because warm and humid conditions can cause it to be a bit too sticky.
Surprisingly, the durability of organic rubber is not great. It breaks in as quickly as most base plastics, though it may be slightly more durable. This is fine for most putters that are used for putting and approaching, but not ideal for driving putters. Most organic plastic discs are near the cost of base plastic keeping the investment low.
Organic material is often more malleable than typical disc golf plastic, yet it remains consistent across weather conditions. Michigan winters are unpredictable with temperatures sometimes swinging from single digits to the mid 50’s in a single day. Organic material is great for these conditions because it performs well in the cold, and in my experience does not change as much as most plastics when the temperature rises.
The primary disadvantage with the organic rubber is that it is quite springy. I ultimately retired my Organic Magic because of the number of bounce outs from the basket and wild bounces off trees. The other disadvantage of organic material is the inconsistent runs. It makes sense though, because organic material comes from recycled rubber and every batch of recycled rubber will be from something different. This made it difficult to find multiples of the same disc that felt and threw the same.
Does it Really Help the Environment?
Sure, recycled discs will save some waste. If there are a possible 530,000 discs golfers in the US alone, that amounts to millions of discs being sold each year and reusing waste to produce some of those could certainly be helpful. However, disc golf manufacturers are very small players in the plastics market so recycled discs probably reduce waste costs of the manufacturer more than anything.
Who Makes Recycled Disc Golf Discs?
Here is a quick list of manufacturers offering an eco-friendly lineup:
- Innova Echo Star (recycled disc plastic with a minimum of 50% pre-consumer waste plastic)
- Dynamic Discs BioFuzion (recycled from ground-up deformed discs)
- Latitude 64 Recycled (recycled from discs that did not pass inspection)
- Westside Discs Recycled (recycled from discs that did not pass inspection)
- Gateway Organic (organic, from recycled rubber and renewable resources)
List generated from the DG Puttheads’ Disc Golf Plastic Database
What Are Biodegradable Disc Golf Discs?
The idea behind biodegradable discs is simple; discs lost on the course or sunk in the water harm the environment because they are made of plastic which will release harmful chemicals as it breaks down. To make this simple, just assume every disc golfer loses one disc per year. That is a potentially large amount of pollution caused by a sport that prides itself as environmentally friendly.
Unfortunately, biodegradable plastic usually provides inferior performance and is not in high demand which means there are very few molds available in this option. At the time of writing, all manufacturers I had been aware of who produced biodegradable discs (i.e. Eurodisc) had ceased production.
There are several clear benefits to eco-friendly discs and they have become relatively popular in the disc golf community. While their positive environmental impact is likely negligible at this point, the other benefits are legitimate. The lower investment can be appealing for a disc golfer looking for a grippier disc with a shorter break-in period. I do not currently bag any eco-friendly discs, but I tip my hat every time I see an Organic Magic or BioFuzion Thief cut through the air.
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Parked is made possible in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.
Chris Bawden is a Michigan disc golfer of nearly 20 years and has been an author with the Disc Golf Puttheads since 2015. He lives with his wife and two daughters near his home course of Burchfield Park and is a data scientist on the side.