Chalk is commonly used in outdoor and indoor rock climbing as well as weight lifting in order to increase the friction in an athlete’s movements. Liquid chalk is a longer lasting alternative that leaves less residue.
Friction labs is fast growing chalk manufacturer inspired by the pandemic to create Secret Stuff Hygienic as a sanitary liquid chalk which could lead towards the path of indoor gym reopening. At a price premium compared to similar options, it is reasonable to expect a sustainably produced product. The main positives I found were domestic treatment and a more pure product compared to competitors. In the future, I would like to see more transparency from FrictionLab’s product sourcing, along with public, specific sustainability initiatives developed as the brand grows.
The proclaimed fusion of hand sanitizer and liquid chalk contains 80% ethyl alcohol base with the active ingredient of magnesium carbonate. One of FrictionLab’s big selling points is the high purity of their chalk, they claim to have tested competitors products and found less than 60% purity of magnesium carbonate, all with significant impurities. These impurities include heavy metals which are harmful to humans, other animals and can infiltrate and damage entire ecosystems. So I asked myself, how pure is the chalk in FrictionLab’s product then? The companies FAQ section explains that 100% magnesium carbonate purity is “extremely expensive and impractical,” and list a bar graph showing about 78% magnesium:calcium carbonate ratio, much higher than competitors. I appreciate this quantifiable evidence, any effort towards reducing impurities will reduce possible external detrimental effects, and make an overall more sustainable product. However, if they have extensively tested their product, I would have liked to see more transparency in the specific impurities listed instead of just the magnesium:calcium carbonate ratio.
Liquid chalk is occasionally used in outdoor climbing and magnesium carbonate has been shown to have negative effects on rock-dwelling fern and moss species. I will note that this hygienic nature of this product is marketing more towards indoor use, but all FrictionLab’s other chalk-related products all are magnesium carbonate based. I’d encourage the company to look into sustainable alternatives such as Cabosil, AKA fumed silica, which has less of an impact on the surrounding environment.
Research has proven the hygienic aspect of the product, nearby Colorado University lab found the product to be robustly antibacterial and antiviral - sufficient to kill Coronavirus on surfaces. The only thing keeping it from being listed as an FDA approved hand sanitizer is the addition of chalk, and I think this proof of concept testing helps gives users a peace of mind in its safety.
100% of the magnesium carbonate used in sports is mined from magnesite. Global reserve estimates of non-reserve magnesite of 12 billion tons should be enough to last centuries more, at least from the current perspective. In general, magnesite is filtered using hydrochloric acid and making soda to get the magnesium carbonate. 70% of the world’s magnesite comes from China, and there have been protests about the conditions and pollution at these magnesite mine sites.
FrictionLabs only public statement on the production of their chalk is that they “import highest quality raw materials from around the world and treat them at factory in Denver, Colorado.” It’s worrisome to not be able to more specifics but understandable give the small size of the company. While the raw product is likely mined and shipped from China, domestic treatment means more stringent environmental and labor regulations, at least in that process. I found there is one commercial magnesite mine in the US, located nearby in Nevada, this could be a more ethical and lower carbon footprint way to source the chalk.
Founded in 2014 by two climbers, FrictionLabs is based out of Denver, Colorado. They have no listed sustainability initiatives, but they have been active supporters of advocacy groups that promote leave no trace ethics for climbing. Making products in an industry so ingrained with the Earth, I hope to see more vocal dedication and transparency on the sustainability of their products as they grow. FrictionLabs gets a bonus half point for donating 10% of Secret Stuff Hygienic sales to organizations working to increase diversity in sports. Browsing through the sponsored athletes, I’m happy to see diverse cultural and ethnic representation.