Scaling New Heights: Sustainable Chalk for Rock Climbing

Sustainable chalk for rock climbing - Chalk Rebels

“My hope is everybody switches to this essentially, and then let magnesium carbonate from the mined sources be used by the steel industry or whatever, but not by climbers.”

Francis Dierick on creating a sustainable chalk for rock climbing

In this episode of EnvironMental Podcast, we spoke with Francis Dierick, the founder of Chalk Rebels, about the trouble with chalk for rock climbing and how they made a sustainable alternative.

Aub met Francis at a gathering for the European members of 1% for the planet at the Amsterdam Patagonia office. It was fantastic to reconnect with the 1% for the planet mission, and meeting other members in the Benelux was a real treat! When Francis started telling Aub about how most climbing chalk is unsustainably mined in China, and that Chalk Rebels has a more eco-friendly way to improve friction while climbing, Aub was hooked. She knew Francis had to tell this story on EnvironMental.

The Problem with Traditional Chalk

First, Francis told us that the traditional process of acquiring climbing chalk is primarily through mining and that it’s sourced from China. This method, while effective in producing the chalk needed by climbers worldwide, comes with a significant environmental cost.

Not only do mining operations lead to habitat destruction, pollution, and other negative impacts on the environment, but the chalk itself is bad for the environment its used in! Any outdoor climber will tell you that a busy climbing spot has slippery holds when they’re overused. That’s partly because the friction from chalk use overtime erodes and polishes the rock. Chalk can also reduce photosynthesis in plants, and cause desertification in the soil.

“About 80% of chalk comes from China. But there are two ways to make chalk. You can either mine it or you can synthesize it out of seawater.”

A Sustainable Chalk for Rock Climbing

Chalk Rebels is challenging the status quo by producing chalk through a groundbreaking method: synthesizing it from the waste product of desalination plants. By extracting minerals directly from seawater, Chalk Rebels is able to bypass the harmful effects of the mining. The concept is that they can use seawater from anywhere in the world, creating a more local supply and offering a more sustainable and environmentally friendly source of climbing chalk.

But of course, the method of creation is only part of the sustainability journey here. 

Liquid Chalk vs. Powdered Chalk

Francis pointed out that liquid chalk could potentially lead climbers to use less product while still maintaining an effective grip. This shift could have a positive ripple effect on the environment by reducing the amount of chalk used and, consequently, the need for mining.

Chalk Rebels offers a liquid chalk. The liquid chalk uses less magnesium carbonate and needs to be applied less often than dry powder chalk. Plus, it doesn’t spill if you fall with your bag open or need to re-up on the climb. Reducing spillage leads to way less chalk use on its own.

Cultural Shifts in Climbing Habits

That isn’t the end of chalk use for rock climbers though. We also touched on the cultural and habitual aspects of chalk usage in the climbing community.

Climbers use chalk as a confidence booster, and as a habitual practice to get psyched up for a climb. Changing these ingrained habits is a big challenge! But Francis really believes we can make a difference by encouraging climbers to experiment with climbing without excessive chalk. And we’re inspired!

We think this part should be a no-brainer for climbers because all outdoor climbers, at their core, love the planet. Many of us (Aub included) got our start climbing on random things just to get up high and have a better view of the beauty of the world around us. That’s why we’re proud to have Francis on our show and to share the message of Chalk Rebels! We think they stand as a testament to the fact that with creativity and commitment, industries can evolve to meet the demands of both their consumers and the planet.

Connect with Francis and Find Sustainable Chalk for Rock Climbing

You can find Chalk Rebels products on their website:

And keep up with them (and their cool ambassadors) on Instagram:

Or connect with Francis on LinkedIn:

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