/ Chalk Talk - Reduce, reuse, recycle??

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dry 08 Sep 2019

I've been looking at ways I can help to reduce waste in climbing, as well as encouraging climbers to take responsibility for the products we use and where the waste goes. With that, I'm trying to figure out what a climbing gym could do to reduce waste. Part of that is chalk.

First off chalk is basically magnesium carbonate, which is mostly mined in China as magnesite and comes with your standard massive environmental issues. Climbing did a really good article on it here

https://www.climbing.com/gear/the-hidden-environmental-cost-of-climbing-chalk/

I'm looking into what a commercial gym can do. I think the following are big problems

  • Some plastics can't be recycled at most council centres or kerbside, like most of the flimsy plastic from chalk bags
  • Gyms sell single use chalk balls, which themselves come in single use plastic packaging, both of which are thrown away
  • Chalk not in balls goes everywhere and is wasted, plus gets inhaled which may or may not be bad

The Blockhelden gym in Germany has a wooden/metal chalk dispenser that does €5 refills with a refillable bottle. EpicTv covered it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuFc8_XHx6o

Would you buy chalk from a dispenser - similar to how Waitrose are now dispensing some of their foods? https://www.bbc.com/news/business-48498346

What do you think about reusable chalk bags, any experiences with ones you use and what works?

1
TobyA 08 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

> What do you think about reusable chalk bags,

I presume you mean reusable chalk balls? My oldest chalk bag must be going on 30 years and still works fine!

1
tjdodd 08 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

Your wording is very confusing as TobyA has pointed out.  When you refer to chalk bags in your OP I assume you mean the plastic bag that chalk typically comes in when you buy it.  There are plenty of recycled chalk bags out there meaning the bag that we keep chalk in when climbing.  And I would hope everyone's chalk bag is reusable.

Anyway, I think refillable chalk would be great.  You don't need any special refillable bag - we already have this in our chalk bags.  Just dispense until your chalk bag (or bucket) is full and charge according to amount dispensed.  I would definitely use it (and hate having to buy chalk in plastic bags).

Post edited at 16:08
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thepodge 08 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

Decathlon sell chalk in paper, it's a block so you have to smash / grind it yourself. 

One of the London walls has banned dry chalk and the reviews are that the place seems unbelievably clean. 

The chalk despenser is a good idea but it needs to be a lot cheaper than plastic wrapped mail-order chalk. 

I've seen a lot of people foregoing traditional chalk bags in favour of using the bag it's sold in. Not perfect but better. 

dry 08 Sep 2019
In reply to TobyA:

Yes I meant chalk balls, my bad!

Yeah decathlon do paper as well as the buckets. I know other brands that have had paper wrapping but switched to plastic - probably because of wastage issues in warehouses where some of the product got wet.

My idea would be a large food dispenser style tube (think Jelly Baby factory tubes if you've ever seen them you can buy a cups worth and chuck into your chalk bag, or take away a recyclable paper bag if you want more.

I use a refillable chalk ball and you get less chalk on your hands but it seems like that's all you actually need for reducing moisture. Basically any time I put my hands into loose chalk most of it falls off or blows away in a few seconds anyway.

Anyone know any gyms that have banned loose chalk so I can do a it more research? Would be good to contact them and see how it's gone.

greg_may_ 08 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

I've used a refillable chalk ball for climbing at the wall for a few years now - now have a second one to replace the one in my wifes bag. Works well, but leaks a little more than normal. All you do is then pour it back in!

alx 08 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

The biscuit factory/branded climbing walls only sell liquid chalk I believe due to the air quality problems.

krikoman 08 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

> What do you think about reusable chalk bags, any experiences with ones you use and what works?

Why not just give up on chalk?

8
john arran 08 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

For many years now I've preferred a block of chalk in my bag rather than loose powder or a chalk ball. Seems to work extremely well in getting chalk only on the front of your fingers, means virtually no spillage at all and makes one block of chalk last incredibly long.

The only downsides are that it isn't as effective for crack climbing, as it's harder to get chalk on the back of your hand, and that if I have a chalk bag on while bouldering and fall on my back, there's a good chance I'll break the block up into pieces.

elsewhere 08 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

Loose or chunks of chalk in a knotted cotton sock worked ok.

henwardian 08 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

I applaud the ethical direction this thread is going in but it's left me pretty confused about how most people use chalk. Even when I climb very regularly, it takes me months to get through a single bag of loose chalk and maybe a little less time to get through a chalk ball.

I think there are much bigger uses of plastic that are much easier to cut out. Like, for example, making a resolution to only buy fruit and veg that is loose and unplastificated and putting that fruit and veg directly into the trolly/basket rather than bagging it first. I create much more plastic waste from a single days' groceries than an entire years' chalk use.

1
John Stainforth 09 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

Anyone remember the Clean Hand Gang (I think it was called) in the very early '70's?

thepodge 09 Sep 2019
In reply to henwardian:

The two are not mutually exclusive. Why not try doing both?

snoop6060 09 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

I would defo use s chalk dispenser to buy chalk. But only if it was cheaper by weight than whatever they sell in those paper wrapped blocks at the counter which are like £1.50. 

Which London wall is liquid chalk only? That's a curious idea. Not sure how I'd get on with that as liquid chalk does antagonise my skin a bit and it's pricey. I gather they sell it at a premium rate as well  

Robert Durran 09 Sep 2019
In reply to krikoman:

> Why not just give up on chalk?

Because then I'd only be able to climb about three grades easier indoors (and even then it would feel horribly insecure), and I would almost certainly fall off and die outdoors. If chalk were banned I'd probably just give up any sort of serious climbing to be honest.

Anyway, to answer the OP, yes I'd definitely buy loose chalk at climbing walls and put it straight into the container I keep my supply of chalk in. Good idea.

As for chalk balls, totally useless - on the rare occasions I've had to buy one in an emergency, I've just cut it open and used the chalk loose (barely lasts one wall session). And block chalk obviously has to be pulverised by stamping on my chalk bag to be of any use.

1
pancakeandchips 09 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

I've refilled ordinary non-refillable chalk balls by using pliers to open the wire cinch and then close it again.

In reply to john arran:

Yeah, I always use blocks. Just run it along the end of my fingers and I'm good to go. Seems like a lot less waste.

Saying that, I was pretty disappointed that the chalk blocks I usually buy, that were previously just covered in paper, are now also covered in a plastic wrapper too. I guess some got some damp somewhere/sometime and now there's more plastic waste because an idiot can't store chalk in dry conditions

SDM 09 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

There were some studies done a few years ago, I think in American gyms.

If I remember correctly, they found no statistically significant difference in the number of airborne particles at gyms that banned loose chalk.

The Pinnacle at Northampton used to ban loose chalk, I don't know if they still do.

Eric9Points 09 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

I suspect the amount of chalk used by climbers is a very small proportion of the total amount mined and that a modest reduction in consumption by climbers would have virtually no impact on the environmental damage caused by magnesite mining.

The amount of plastic packaging consumed by a chalk using climber every year is also likely to be tiny. How many bags of chalk would a climber get through in a year? Maybe four? That amounts to perhaps 10 grammes of plastic. One car journey to the wall will probably consume 1000 grammes of hydrocarbons and a trip to Glencoe...?

As Henwardian has already said, while all savings are worthwhile in the grand scheme of things there are more effective ways of looking after the environment. Cycle to the climbing wall, try and share your car when you visit a crag and more generally just avoid plastic packaging when you have the opportunity to do so.

Would I use a dispenser at a wall? Yes I probably would. Would I expect it to have much effect on the environment? I doubt it very much.

Ian W 09 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

Many walls used to ban loose chalk, but it does seem that it is preferred by most climbers (cost i suppose, but then the wastage from dropped / spilled loose chalk probably equalises the cost.......and £3 ish for a chalk ball once a month is hardly a major expense compared to other climbing expenditure. Whether the dust from chalk balls, which tends to be finer is worse for your lungs because it an penetrate further is possible; i'm not aware of any studies being done to evidence this, its just anecdotal from wall users.

Refillable chalk balls have been around for ages, but cost a bit more and are a slight faff to refill. People just dont seem to be keen on them, and would prefer the disposable types.

Other importers use biodegradeable paper for chalk in most of the usual package sizes; however it is silghtly more expensive than plastic and therefore not as popular. Yup, folks, climbers stinginess is alive and well in 2019!

AlanLittle 09 Sep 2019
In reply to Ian W:

> Many walls used to ban loose chalk, but it does seem that it is preferred by most climbers (cost i suppose

Not cost in my case - I find chalk balls pretty much useless and only use them if I'm at a wall that absolutely insists.

I buy chalk blocks wrapped in paper (and store any loose chalk I might currently happen to have in a screw top plastic jar that I've had for more than 25 years)

Dale Turrell 09 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

I don't think chalk balls are "single use", they usually last me a month or more.

Beta designs sell chalk blocks in paper packaging.

Post edited at 10:11
krikoman 09 Sep 2019
In reply to Robert Durran:

> Because then I'd only be able to climb about three grades easier indoors (and even then it would feel horribly insecure), and I would almost certainly fall off and die outdoors. If chalk were banned I'd probably just give up any sort of serious climbing to be honest.

Hankies, not chalk If it's good enough for Eric I wipe my hands on my trousers or shirt, it's not that hard, you should try it.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0007vy8/the-last-climb-eric-jones?fbclid=IwAR3E4UZ9PwGeXcL1aS1RvO7Bl-51D-rAja2mtnQ5NTzzJ-nTNUFmSfpqIjA

Zoom to 12:50

henwardian 09 Sep 2019
In reply to thepodge:

> The two are not mutually exclusive. Why not try doing both?

I think there is only one climbing wall that is less than 2 hours drive from me where I am just now and it doesn't sell chalk, I'd definitely be more than happy using a chalk powder dispenser if such a thing existed though.

In terms of a reusable chalkball, I did once try out one that a friend had (you could fill it up with chalk and then pull a drawstring tight and then chalk up in the normal way) but the issue was that the holes got blocked up with... well probably a mixture of chalk and sweat... after a few uses. There are also design/technical issues - it needs to be elasticated to work well but if you have to restuff it, restuffing an elasticated sack with a powder is... tricky. Also, I don't think standard chalk in a bag is anything like ground up enough to use inside a chalk ball so I'd need to get a mortar and pessel and do a lot of pregrinding...

I think the bottom line for me is that I rather evaluate environmental measures based on a ratio of how much of a PITA they are vs how much they help. I'd rather focus my effort in a direction that has the largest impact.

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dry 13 Sep 2019
In reply to henwardian:

> I think the bottom line for me is that I rather evaluate environmental measures based on a ratio of how much of a PITA they are vs how much they help. I'd rather focus my effort in a direction that has the largest impact.

I think while this might be an unpopular opinion outwardly online, it really is what people do in their real life and I think is a really valid point. In terms of larger scale societal change towards the "best" option for any walk of line whether it's recycling, voting, helping others, transport e.t.c - the problem is that large jumps are generally very hard to implement and to get to stick, and smaller more reasonable goals work better and allow the first steps towards an ideal end goal.

If it's easy to do (or not particularly hard) and doesn't impede the original goal, it's easier to get people to do it. So while ideally we wouldn't use chalk, not use anything non-recyclable or completely ecology made, would recycle everything we use - that's not realistic.

This is why I'm doing a bit of research here to find out what could be good options and what has worked for others.

I do have to say that even though it might seem like it's only a little chalk saved, or a little plastic we use, these are the little things that add up. Would anyone here be happy to lose 2% of our climbing areas a year because it's only a little?

I'm thinking as it would be hard to get people to entirely give up chalk, a refillable option and selling reusable chalk balls could work to eliminate waste. I'll let you know if I come up with something fun.

Thanks for all the input - would still appreciate any more

Mr Fuller 13 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

It's an admirable idea, but from an eco point of view, climbing walls providing decent facilities or even incentives to those not driving a car would make a much bigger impact. £2 cheaper if you don't drive? Or £1 more expensive if you drive a car sole-occupancy to the wall?

Jon Greengrass 13 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

Reduce, I simply don't use chalk.

Reuse, I have an old paint brush I use to clean holds

Recycle, the amount of chalk that most punters use means there is more than enough on the holds already if you are unfortunate enough to be afflicted by sweaty hands.

1
Robert Durran 13 Sep 2019
In reply to Jon Greengrass

> Recycle, the amount of chalk that most punters use means there is more than enough on the holds already if you are unfortunate enough to be afflicted by sweaty hands

It just doesn't seem to work like that. I like to use copious chalk, but I also find it makes a big difference to brush old chalk from holds before climbing.

1
PaulJepson 13 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

The chalk dispenser is not commercially available yet. I contacted them after seeing it, as the owners at my climbing wall were interested.

The other positive of loose chalk vs chalk balls is that chalk balls create a much finer powder, which gets everywhere (including in your lungs and nose). Loose chalk doesn't get into as small a particle so it tends to not get in the air and gets hoovered up. 

Fakey Rocks 14 Sep 2019
In reply to dry:

Metolius were selling block chalk wrapped only in paper. You could also by a bulk box of these

However I think i have just found out that they have started wrapping each paper wrapped block in a plastic wrap too! That's how it is packed in the bulk box, and I believe this was a fairly recent change, I may however, be wrong, perhaps they have always shipped it that way, does anyone know?

Seriously infuriating if so, + thanks for posting this, you have reminded me to contact them about it, hope others will too, as there is just no need for the plastic 2nd wrap.

I liked the Metolius stuff as it breaks up into nice fine powder, but will no longer be buying it.

If you see blocks by them that aren't plastic wrapped, don't be deceived, they are individually plastic wrapped in the bulk box.

I think another company, Betablock?, also do paper wrapped blocks, but I don't know if that also is wrapped in plastic when it comes out of a bulk box?

Beta block is more chunky and harder to make a powder from.

Seems like I'm out of chalk choices, yet another reason to not feel guilty about prioritising other non climbing stuff.

But why can't the powdered stuff sold in bags come in a cardboard tube a bit like those nice crisps do? Not difficult is it!

On a more serious note, how come people are still flying off to euro crags..and further away? isn't this just seriously irresponsible.. have you seen the news recently, or anytime in just the last few years for example?

BrendanO 15 Sep 2019

I make chalk balls from loose chalk and my wife’s old tights. Very satisfying 

john arran 15 Sep 2019
In reply to BrendanO:

> I make chalk balls from loose chalk and my wife’s old tights. Very satisfying 

I presume you do know that ladders are cheating ;-)

PaulJepson 15 Sep 2019
In reply to Fakey Rocks:

I think Snap do blocks in paper.

krikoman 16 Sep 2019
In reply to BrendanO:

> I make chalk balls from loose chalk and my wife’s old tights. Very satisfying 


So do I

krikoman 16 Sep 2019
In reply to Jon Greengrass:

> Reduce, I simply don't use chalk.

Bravo, Jon


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