Mount Everest has served as a dumping ground for climbers over the last 66 years, with over 60,000 pounds of trash accumulating on the ascent to the world’s highest peak. Despite clean-up efforts by the government, volunteer groups, and conscientious individuals, there are still tons of trash left — particularly plastic waste.
So the Nepalese government announced that it will take matters into its own hands on Thursday with a ban on the buying, selling, and usage of single-use plastic items thinner than 30 microns (0.0012 inches or 0.03 millimeters) in the Khumbu region. The ban, which will go into effect at the start of next year, is intended to curb waste from single-use plastics like bottles for soft drinks, utensils, cups, and straws.
"If we start now, it will help keep our region, the Everest, and the mountains clean long-term," Ganesh Ghimire, chief administrative officer of Khumbu Pasang Lhamu rural municipality, told AFP.
However, the ban will not apply to plastic water bottles, perhaps the biggest contributor to plastic pollution on the planet, likely due to a lack of water supply on the mountain.
"We are consulting with all sides about what can be done about plastic water bottles," Ghimire told CNN on Thursday. "We will soon find a solution for that."
Ghimire also revealed that this isn’t the first time that the government has tried to address the problem. In 1999, the government introduced a similar ban, which ultimately failed due to poor implementation. So far, no punitive consequences have been announced for those who do not adhere to the new law.
Starting in 2014, the government has also attempted to hold climbers monetarily responsible for keeping the mountain clean by imposing a $4,000 deposit that is only refunded if each climber collects at least 17.6 pounds of waste from the mountain for proper disposal. Only half of all climbers have been able to deliver on the challenge.
However, through a clean-up campaign, the government removed over 24,000 pounds of waste earlier this year with the help of volunteers.
As global rises in temperature cause glaciers to melt, the waste left behind has now almost completely surfaced. This has raised increasing environmental concerns over the potential pollution of the water supply in the lower valley.
Globally, more than 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year, with over 8 million tons ending up in the world's oceans. Instead of being recycled, most plastic waste overwhelms landfills and ends up in bodies of water through runoff. Plastic water pollution harms marine life and birds and can contaminate aquifers and other sources of drinking water, contributing to the global water crisis.
As the plastic pollution and its effects become more pervasive and troubling, governments around the world are adopting single-use plastic bans. While the effectivessness of the ban will depend on enforcement by the government, it is a step in the right direction for the future of Nepal's natural environment and the vast life that rely on it.