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This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 258 (July 2019).
Question: Is there a way to recycle plastic climbing holds once they are worn out?
Answer: I like to imagine that because climbers enjoy athletic, pure lifestyles and sometimes venture into nature to climb, we are as green as the forests themselves. But a smokestack has a smaller carbon footprint than we do. We don plastic clothing, tie plastic ropes to plastic harnesses, stuff our gear in plastic packs, clip to plastic slings, sleep in plastic tents in plastic sleeping bags on plastic pads, pull on plastic holds, and spew carbon to drive or fly to vertical surfaces, which can also be made of plastic. All for fun. Karma kudos to you for looking for an alternative to the landfill or the ocean gyre for dead plastic holds.
Before we consider recycling, let’s look at product longevity. The longer you use a certain thing, the fewer of those things you’ll use in your lifetime. This reduces your carbon footprint and is the first step in the chant “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” I’m still climbing in a pair of Chouinard RockBottoms from 1987. They are peppered with more holes than a yield sign in Texas, but I don’t consider them worn out. Are your holds really worn out? I doubt it. I imagine they are slick instead. A washing might remove the cake of grease and chalk and rubber, opening the pores and possibly restoring some of the texture. You can run the holds through a dishwasher, scrub them with a citric acid or muriatic acid solution, or use a commercial cleaner such as So Ill Grip Wash.
When cleaning doesn’t refresh the texture, you still don’t need to toss the holds. Reuse them. Donate them to needy user groups. Schools, summer camps and YMCAs will all be stoked to put those polished grips on their walls, and their clientele, kneebiters with pizza-greased hands forced to timeout from Chuck E. Cheese, won’t know the difference. Twenty years ago I donated several milk crates brimming with my “worn out” holds to a local school. They use them to this day.
Recycling isn’t a practical option. Plastic holds are either made from polyester resin or polyurethane. Neither material is simple to recycle. I couldn’t find a recycling facility that would take them, and the three hold companies I contacted didn’t know of a way to recycle plastic grips.
Since recycling seems like a nonstarter, you might use those holds as an energy source. Pound for pound, polyurethane has the same energy as coal. If you are near a power plant that burns coal or waste for electricity, perhaps you can cremate them there and at least power up a few light bulbs. Unlikely, but worth checking before sending those grips to the landfill.
Next! Send us a line if you have ideas about recycling or reusing holds. Any app developers out there? Perhaps there’s a future for an app facilitating hold exchanges between gyms, rec centers and churches.