Nepal is banning single-use plastic in the Everest region in a bid to reduce the vast amount of trash left behind by tourists and trekkers.

Mount Everest Waste
Nepali Army personnel carry bags of waste collected from the Mount Everest after the spring expedition season. ©Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty

Mount Everest has seen a record number of climbers this year, and as the numbers increased, so too did the amount of trash left behind. A government-led cleaning initiative on Everest collected over ten tonnes of trash this year, prompting authorities to introduce a ban on single-use plastics.

“If we start now, it will help keep our region, the Everest and the mountains clean long term,” local official Ganesh Ghimire told the Associated Press. The region is visited by 50,000 foreign and domestic tourists a year, according to Ghimire and they accumulate a lot of rubbish, often leaving plastic bottles, cans, trekking equipment, torn tents and discarded food wrappers in their wake. Everest, the highest mountain in the world, has often been described by conservationists as the highest junkyard in the world.

Mount Everest Waste
Workers from the recycle company Blue Waste 2 Value displaying the garbage collected from Mount Everest and Base Camp in Kathmandu, Nepal in spring 2019 ©Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto/Getty

In 2014, the country’s tourist board declared that anyone climbing Everest must return from the trip with an extra 18 pounds of garbage, including their own and garbage left behind by others. The rules weren’t strictly enforced so only half of Everest's trekkers and climbers actually returned with the required amount. Last year, a massive clean up campaign, made up mostly of local sherpas, tried to tackle wrestled Everest’s waste problem by bagging waste to recycle, often trekking for days to gather discarded rubbish. But when spring arrived this year, so did new expeditions and the rubbish cycle continued.

Mount Everest Waste
Nepali climbers pose for photographs after collecting waste from the Mount Everest at Namche Bazar in spring 2019 ©Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty

In April of this year, the Chinese government closed off its side of the Everest Base Camp to everyone except those with permits to scale the mountain in response to the huge amount of rubbish that had been piling up at the site. According to the UN Environment Programme, more than 140 tonnes of garbage has been dumped on Mount Everest since the first mountaineering expeditions arrived in the 1950s. This year's clean-up, which began on 25 April, collected more than ten tonnes of waste. 

Travel News - everest base camp closed
Everest base camp in Tibet closed to tourists in April due to large amounts of rubbish piling up at the site ©Reggie Lee/Shutterstock

While the single-use plastic ban won't solve Nepal's waste problem - more radical and transformative action is urgently needed - it's a step in the right direction. Officials will work with trekking companies, airlines and the Nepal Mountaineering Association to enforce the ban, though they have yet to decide on penalties to impose on those who break the ban.

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