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.
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.
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.
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.