Nepalese officials are banning single-use plastics on Mount Everest and in the surrounding area. The move comes as the number of climbers seeking to conquer the world’s highest peak continues to increase and the trash they leave behind continues to pile up. Excessive pollution on Mt. Everest has even earned it the nickname, “the world’s highest garbage dump.”
The ban will be implemented in the Khumbu region, home to Everest, in January 2020 and will prevent climbers from bringing single-use plastic bottles and single-use plastics less than 0.03 millimeters thick on their expedition and ultimately dumping them. It will also prevent shops in the area from selling single-use plastics. However, the ban will not apply to plastic water bottles.
"We are consulting with all sides about what can be done about plastic water bottles," Ganesh Ghimire, the chief administrative officer of Khumbu Pasang Lhamu rural municipality, told CNN. "We will soon find a solution for that."
For years, efforts have been made to clean up Mt. Everest. Officials hope this ban actually helps make a change. The government hasn’t announced what the punishment will be for those found with single-use plastics after the ban goes into effect.
Earlier this year, a 14-member team of volunteers set out to tackle the trash hundreds of climbers have left behind. They aimed to collect 10 metric tons of waste over 45 days. In the first two weeks, they recovered 3 metric tons (6,613 pounds) of trash. To put things into perspective, that’s approximately the weight of two SUVs. Among the rubbish, they found empty cans, bottles, plastic, climbing gear—even bodies.
Another major issue on Everest is human waste. Human waste contaminates local drinking water (melted snow) as some climbers opt for an open-air bathroom by digging holes in the snow instead of disposing of the waste properly.
Overcrowding is yet another concern for the unique Everest environment. In 2011, regular cleanup efforts and waste management systems were introduced. Then in 2014, a rule was introduced requiring climbers to make a $4,000 deposit that is only refunded if they collect 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) of garbage on their way back.
Sadly, the age-old logic, “what goes up, must come down,” doesn’t necessarily hold true on Everest. Officials hope the single-use plastic ban will help change this and that climbers will stop leaving their trash behind.