Mount Everest - world’s highest junkyard, say researchers

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on November 21, 2020

File photo   -  REUTERS

Say they have found evidence of microplastic pollution at the top of the mountain

Researchers have found evidence of microplastic pollution at the top of Mount Everest, according to a study published in the journal One Earth.

The evidence was found upon an analysis of the snow and stream samples from the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition.

The highest concentration of microplastics was found in samples collected from around Base Camp where hikers and trekkers spend the most time. However, the team of researchers also found microplastics in samples as high up as 8,440 meters above sea level, just below the summit.

"Mount Everest has been described as 'the world's highest junkyard. Microplastics haven't been studied on the mountain before, but they're generally just as persistent and typically more difficult to remove than larger items of debris,” says first author Imogen Napper, a National Geographic Explorer and scientist based at the University of Plymouth.

Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic generated from larger litter and pose a significant ecological threat as they are easily consumed by animals and are very difficult to clean up. Microplastics are common in the ocean.

"I didn't know what to expect in terms of results, but it really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample I analysed. Mount Everest is somewhere I have always considered remote and pristine. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener," said Napper.

"The samples showed significant quantities of polyester, acrylic, nylon, and polypropylene fibres," Napper said.

"Those materials are increasingly being used to make the high-performance outdoor clothing climbers use as well as tents and climbing ropes, so we highly suspect that these types of items are the major source of pollution rather than things like food and drink containers," she added.

The best way to clean this pollution on the mountain is yet to be determined.

"Currently, environmental efforts tend to focus on reducing, reusing, and recycling larger items of waste. This is important, but we also need to start focusing on deeper technological solutions that focus on microplastics, like changing fabric design and incorporating natural fibres instead of plastic when possible," she said.

"These are the highest microplastics discovered so far. While it sounds exciting, it means that microplastics have been discovered from the depths of the ocean all the way to the highest mountain on Earth. With microplastics so ubiquitous in our environment, it's time to focus on informing appropriate environmental solutions,” she added.

Published on November 21, 2020

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