Teen Upcycles Climbing Ropes, Helping the Environment and Pets

He donates the profits to animal rescue groups.

Alexander Tsao with his dog Jinger
Alexander Tsao with his dog Jinger.

Alexander Tsao

An avid rock climber for several years, Alexander Tsao was scaling the walls at a gym near his home in Redmond, Washington, when he noticed that the ropes were frequently being replaced with new ones. The rope he was using that day for a team practice was a different color from the one he had used just a day earlier.

Just 16 at the time, Tsao wondered what happened to the old ropes. He asked the gym owners and found out they had to be discarded regularly due to safety regulations. He was surprised to find that so many ropes were sent to landfills.

“This discovery made me want to devise a solution to the environmental issue of climbing rope waste,” Tsao tells Treehugger.

He mulled possible ideas and ways to upcycle the discarded ropes, deciding to turn them into leashes for dogs. He donates the profits (and some leashes) to local animal rescue groups.

“After realizing that I could transform the retired ropes into dog leashes, I decided to direct my proceeds towards no-kill shelters, combining my passions for the environment and animals,” Tsao says. “Both causes have always been important to me as my parents taught me about sustainability from a young age, and we own a rescue ourselves.”

His rescue dog, Jinger, is now 11 years old and his best friend, Tsao says. Besides testing all the leashes, she has other great qualities.

“She loves bean-bag chairs, people-watching, and being outdoors,” he says. “My family loves to spoil her.”

Launching the Leash Business

Alexander Tsao and volunteer Jocelyn Leiter make leashes in his garage
Tsao and volunteer Jocelyn Leiter making leashes in his garage last year.

Alexander Tsao

Once he devised his plan, Tsao contacted all the climbing gyms in Washington State, pitching his idea to repurpose old climbing ropes. Some, he says, were skeptical at first, but many gyms agreed to donate their discards.

There were months of testing and designing his products and filing documents to become a nonprofit organization which he called Rocks2Dogs. Jinger patiently stood by as he modified and refined the leash design.

“When I launched my nonprofit business, people hadn’t fully caught on to what I was doing, but eventually with using social media to promote my product and making connections in my community, I was able to gain attraction for Rocks2Dogs,” Tsao says. 

Now, he says, he is overwhelmed by the positive response he has received.

“I am grateful that people are so supportive of my mission.” 

Recycling and Donations

making leashes

Alexander Tsao

To make the leashes, Tsao and volunteers first wash and dry the ropes. Then they cut them into different lengths ranging from four to 10 feet. Then burn the ends to keep them from fraying, add a clip and handle to each end, and cover the leash’s hardware with shrink tape.

Because making the leashes now is a full-time job, Tsao has recruited friends, family, and neighbors to help. Students from his high school also volunteered to make leashes and promote Rocks2Dogs on social media.

During the school year, Tsao balanced leash-making with homework and extracurriculars. In summer, he works on it every day, mostly in his garage.

“We have made and sold over a thousand leashes, which adds up to over 10,000 feet of rope being saved from the landfill,” says Tsao, who is now 18.

Rocks2Dogs leashes

Alexander Tsao

The leashes come in various colors. There are also half-price leashes made from rope with slight imperfections. These start at $7.49 while most other leashes start at $14.99.

To date, the nonprofit has raised more than $35,000. Much of this money has been donated to animal shelters. However, during the start of the pandemic, Tsao fundraised for local food banks as well. 

During that time, he was interviewed in three local news segments. Later, the Washington Post featured him in a story. All that attention ramped up orders. He’s since had clients from 41 states including Alaska, Hawaii, and Florida. With all the media attention, inventory is low and Tsao is working to make more.

This fall, he plans to attend McGill University in Montreal, but his garage back home will still be bustling with activity, he says.

"I hope to continue Rocks2Dogs with the help and support of my family, friends, and the greater Seattle community.