Climbing in balance with nature

During a long stay in San Francisco, Gerard van Laar became fascinated with climbing. Back in the Netherlands, he became more and more fanatical and went to Belgium, Germany or Luxembourg. But, slowly something started to gnaw and the realization grew: climbing is not sustainable. “Every step has a negative effect on nature,” says van Laar. “We travel to a beautiful climbing destination, wander through nature, travel back again and throw away our worn climbing gear.” He thought that this had to change.

Clean Climber Foundation

It started as a small project next to his work. Van Laar organised events in Bosnia and Germany to collect waste together with other climbers. He received many positive reactions and together with two enthusiastic friends, he started the Clean Climbers Foundation. The goal: “To bring climbing back into balance with nature”, says van Laar. Besides cleaning up nature, they saw other opportunities: collecting used climbing shoes and recycling them. There are great strides to be made here. Every year, some  160,000 pairs of climbing shoes (80,000 kg) are thrown away, van Laar calculated on the back of a beer mat.

The first step

With collection points at climbing halls, climbing schools and sport shops, climbing shoes are collected. And the big brands in the climbing world are also enthusiastic. That was step one. But, to get to the first reclaimed climbing shoe, more is needed. The three climbing friends start looking for a party where they can deliver the shoes and collect the sorted material again.

A golden move

“There does not appear to be anyone in the world who pulverises shoes into usable material on a large scale,” van Laar discovers. As a small foundation, they lack the network and the finances to continue their search efficiently. So he phoned and found Geert Kooistra, case manager at Versnellingshuis Nederland Circulair! A golden move. Kooistra uses his network, brings them into contact with relevant companies and helps them find subsidies. “We have received so much information, we are now in contact with a company that recycles work shoes and are working on our first subsidy application. It would never have worked on its own”.


“Look for local parties that have the same goals as you. And call, tell them what you are doing”, van Laar advises other circular entrepreneurs. It has helped Clean Climbers to take the next step towards a climbing sport in balance with nature.