Mount Everest has been depicted as ‘the world’s highest junkyard. Microplastics haven’t been studied on the mountain previously, yet they’re commonly just as persistent and typically more challenging to eliminate than larger debris items.
Scientists analyzing snow and stream samples from the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition have discovered evidence of microplastic pollution on Mount Everest.
It is surprising to know that they found microplastics in every single snow sample. Knowing we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener, noted scientists.
Scientists found the highest concentrations of microplastics around Base Camp, where hikers and trekkers spend the most time. They also discovered microplastics as high up as 8,440 meters above sea level, just below the summit.
Some of the research team members climbed the mountain, collecting samples during the Everest expedition in the spring of 2019. They aimed to determine whether there was plastic on the mountain and the type of plastic there. This is a significant step toward figuring out where the pollution originated.
First author Imogen Napper, a National Geographic Explorer and scientist based at the University of Plymouth, said, “The samples showed significant quantities of polyester, acrylic, nylon, and polypropylene fibers. 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.”
“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 fibers instead of plastic when possible.”
According to scientists, this work will help clarify the extent to which plastic pollution jeopardizes all environments, not just the ocean.
- Napper et al. Reaching new heights in plastic pollution – preliminary findings of microplastics on Mount Everest. One Earth, 2020 DOI: 10.1016/j.oneear.2020.10.020