The Nepalese government aims to combat record-setting piles of rubbish on Mount Everest as officials move to ban single-use plastics in the area surrounding the world’s tallest mountain.
All soft drink bottles and other plastic products less than 30 microns in thickness are forbidden in Khumbu Pasang Lhamu rural municipality – the region that includes Mount Everest and dozens of other mountains – as of January 1, 2020, Nepali officials told Agence-France Presse (AFP). The move will prevent mountaineers from bringing plastic in and stop local shops from selling it after a record number of visitors and more than 10 tonnes of garbage this year in the area surrounding the more than 8,850 meters (29,000 feet) ice-capped mountain. The ban does not apply to plastic water bottles and there is no penalty established yet for disobeying the rule.
In 2013, Nepal initiated a deposit of $4,000 USD per team of climbers – refundable if they brought down at least 8 kilograms (18 pounds) of litter with them, but only about half returned with the amount. Last year, volunteers collected more than 32,000 kilograms (70,500 pounds) of waste from just below Camp II on Mt. Everest, according to the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee.
In recent years, melting ice caps on the mountains has exposed the bodies of deceased mountaineers and more than six decades of accumulated garbage since the peak was first summitted by Edmund Hillary in 1953. The ban aims to combat one of several challenges facing the ice-encapsulated region. As carbon emissions continue to rise, scientists predict that Mount Everest could be ice-free by the end of this century, with glacier volume reduced in the Everest region of the Himalayas by between 70 and 99 percent by 2100. Mountaineers who leave behind hundreds of oxygen containers, tents, cans, crampons, and human waste threaten the UNESCO World Heritage site and the habitat of its endemic inhabitants, including snow leopards, pandas, Tibetan bears, and many bird species.
Increases in tourism – from just 3,600 visitors in 1979 to more than 25,000 in 2010 – may have boosted local economies and standards of living but provide a challenge to conservation efforts in the area. The region is currently under protection by local and international agencies, says the United Nations. This spring, a record 885 people summitted the mountain, but 11 people died after packed conditions forced dozens of hikers to wait in line for hours at a time, putting them at risk of frostbite and altitude sickness.
The proposal also more than triples the price of mountaineering permits to $35,000 for Everest and $20,000 for other mountains in the region reaching 8,000 meters (26,250 feet) and more.