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Report from the Eco-chalk demo day at Hautes Plaines

Here-in lie the findings from 25.09.2022, a free women’s meet-up at Hautes Plaines in Fontainebleau, organized and coordinated by the website Bettybeta.com. (Please refer to the events page on the website for more details.) The event was aimed at raising the awareness of the impact of chalk usage on the environment, and the girls were provided with samples of 5 different chalks with claims by their manufacturers to be eco-friendly. Our aim was to find out what the girls thought of the various samples, in terms of preference, performance, and impact on the environment.

It was sunny! After 2 weeks of worrying forecast we had great weather. I think that maybe we would have had more participants if the forecast would have been better, but those who came were committed! They were committed to having the best time, and giving the best reviews possible.

In total we received back 20 questionnaires, and the results were quite enlightening. I will admit, I am a scientist, and as far as scientific testing goes, I know this is not a significant data representation, but we did show an apparent trend between users. What is interesting, is that the climbers split into groups, and did not discuss their findings between groups, so a consensus wasn’t formed on the day. Despite this we find that many of the same findings were reported on the questionnaires.

The test group was a collection of 20 girls, with varying levels of experience and expertise. There was a collection of 9 boulders, each with a chalk station of 3 sample chalks, and problems of varying grades on each block. Two of the blocks were discounted due to damp holds, so there were 7 stations in use through the day. Some were in direct sun, some in the shade, some high, some low, some roofs some slabs, so a full variety of problems was on offer to the climbers. This seemed like a good idea in order to give the girls a chance to use the samples in all conditions, but in actual fact it adds to inconsistency because not all chalks were used by every climber on every problem, especially if the climber flashed the block, or if they developed a preference for one of the chalks, and had an investment in finishing the problem, nevertheless the attitudes of the climbers towards each sample is a valid investigation within itself.

The chalk to be tested were from 3 manufacturers. Chalk Rebels provided a liquid chalk that uses the MgCO3 byproduct of desalination procedures. 3rd Rock provided a loose chalk with a similar salt-water based byproduct. Rock Technologies provided three chalks, one loose powder, once liquid chalk with rosin, and one without. These were not desalination byproduct, but were contained in 100% recyclable packaging with low carbon footprint.

The questionnaire was set to address what the climbers thought of each chalk individually, by scoring them on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being poor and 5 being great. Their normal chalk preferences were noted so that their scores could be compared to their expected performance levels. They were also asked for additional comments where they had something interesting to share.

The questions also addressed the girls’ beliefs on how important it was to change habits. A short essay on the problems associated with chalk extraction and usage had been provided for the girls to read in advance, but it is unclear how many had actually read this before attending.
Finally, the participants were asked whether they would buy any of the chalks for themselves in the future.

  • The findings

  • When added together and divided by the number of participants, the scores out of five were as follows:

    Chalk Rebels liquid 2.9
    3rd Rock Techno Chalk 3.6
    Rock Technologies Loose Chalk 3.1
    Rock Technologies Mag Carb 3.8
    Rock Technologies Dry 5 3.9
    Participant’s normal chalk 4.3

    100% answered yes to the question of whether salt-water based chalk would benefit the planet, but just over 40% believed it would make a difference to themselves, or to the crag.

    More than 90% said they felt that packaging made a difference to them and to the planet, but only 45% said it would make a difference to the climbing area

    When questioned about effects of rosin to themselves and the environment it was surprising how many people just didn’t know anything about rosin. More than 50% commented that they felt that rosin was bad for the rock in terms of damaging the climbing holds, but had never thought about the overall environmental impact, or the benefits to the climber. Most were unaware that rosin was mixed in with Magnesium Carbonate in many commonly used chalks.

    On the subject of whether our participants would buy Salt-water based chalk, nearly 90% said they would, and in general (70%) it was thought that the price would make a difference. If it was too expensive, they would not buy it. The pricing information on each chalk had been provided in the pre-event information, but it is unclear how many people read this.

  • Participants’ specific Comments
  • Chalk Rebels Liquid Chalk
    Out of 9 specific comments on this chalk, 6 of them said they liked the consistency, and the coverage, but that the chalk wore off too quickly. One comment was non-favourable about liquid chalk in general, but 2 of the comments were for top scores, they loved the product.

    3rd Rock, Techno Chalk
    We received 7 specific comments about Techno Chalk. All of these were positive, commenting on the chunky feel and the good coverage. One person made a particular request for better, more environmentally friendly packaging, or bulk packs to refill from at home.

    Rock Technologies Loose Chalk
    This attracted 7 specific comments, 6 of them said too soft and powdery, one said they loved how soft and powdery it was.

    Rock Technologies Mag Carb
    Of the 6 comments for Mag Carb, 4 were positive, 2 were negative, but the comments were diverse, referring to the general feel of the product.

    Rock Technologies Dry 5
    Our only demo chalk with rosin in received 7 specific comments. 2 responses were negative, disliking the smell, and the drying action on the skin. The other 5 comments referred to how great this was and how long the product stayed on the hands, however, of these 5, 3 specifically said that they didn’t like the idea of using rosin, so it left them in a dilemma.

  • Summary of results
  • The favourite chalk amongst our 20 climbing women, taking into account feel, coverage, performance and ethics, was the 3rd Rock Techno Chalk.
    The Rock Technologies Dry 5 was also rated highly for it’s performance, but the presence of rosin generally caused concern.
    All the chalks had their good points and bad points, and the scores mainly reflected personal preference, but it was felt that the Chalk Rebels liquid was the least effective due to the fact that it wore off too easily.

    None of the findings are statistically significant, and chalk preferences are largely subjective.

    To me it seems that there are more questions that have arisen from this study than have been answered, and there are many more investigations that could be done before any firm conclusions can be drawn. I would like to use the samples I have for a further study, this time a blind trial, where the packages are unmarked. I realise that some of the chalks are recognizable by their texture, but it will encourage a less biased approach, especially in participants who were not at the first demo event. I will re-address the choice of boulders to reduce some of the variables, and encourage participants to try the same problem with each of the chalks.
    For any further investigations I feel it is necessary to make sure that all participants have read the pre-investigation information before commencing.

  • Conclusions
  • The greatest thing to note is the lack of awareness to this subject in general. This was a group of girls that had come to a demo day to find out about environmental impact of chalks and eco friendly alternatives, but most were entirely unaware of the issues before they came. I received many comments from the girls about how informative the day was, and about how it had prompted them to investigate further and to research the source and content of future purchases before buying.

    The only conclusion I can actually draw from the day is that it was a lot of fun, and the awareness of chalk-related issues has been raised in at least 20 more climbers.


    Helen Dudley

    Mum of Sebastian, 11, and Theo 8. Living in Arbonne-la-Forêt.

    After making transitions from trad, to sport, to motherhood, Helen now lives in the Fontainebleau area dedicating as much time as possible to bouldering and playing in the forest with her two boys.