Just when you thought that humans couldn’t get worse, turns out even Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world, is littered with microplastics.
An international team of researchers from the Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition, funded by Rolex and National Geographic, discovered that the once “remote and pristine” environment was littered with microplastics brought by hikers and tourists from across the globe.
Microplastics are minuscule plastic particles (less than 5mm) that often can’t be seen by the naked eye. Commonly found in rivers, lakes, oceans, and even soil, microplastics have a dangerous potential to cause harm to all manner of biological species through ‘bioaccumulation’ – the gradual accumulation of substances, such as plastics and pesticides, within an organism.
To put it simply, animals at the bottom of the food chain can consume tiny amounts of microplastics. However, as the chain goes up, these microplastics accumulate, causing harm to organisms much higher up in the pecking order, like humans.
Because of their unwieldy nature, researchers at the University of Plymouth were curious to see if microplastics could also be lurking in high altitude, terrestrial environments.
Analysed from snow and stream samples collected back in 2019, specimens from 11 different locations across Everest were all found to contain significant concentrations of microplastics. These samples were taken from between 5,300 metres to 8,440 metres high on the mountain summit.
In fact, the researchers found an average of 30 microplastic particles per litre of water in ordinary snow samples, with 119 particles per litre recording in their most contaminated sample.
If you can’t carry your shit out don’t fucking go.
— mark🏍 (@themfi) November 20, 2020
The first author of the study, Dr Imogen Napper from the University of Plymouth, noted that researchers could tell what type of plastics were polluting the Himalayan environment and that the global community of daredevil hikers were to blame.
“The samples showed significant quantities of polyester, acrylic, nylon, and polypropylene fibres,” she said. “Those materials are increasingly being used to make the high-performance outdoor clothing climbers use as well as tents and climbing ropes, so we highly suspect that these types of items are the major source of pollution rather than things like food and drink containers.”
The highest concentrations of microplastics were found near Everest base camp – not shocking. However, they also found concentrations right near Mount Everest’s summit – kinda shocking.
How many studies do people need in order to acknowledge that humans ruin the earth and are the cause of nearly all environmental problems!? 😒 Individualism is going to kill us all.
— 📷 Jena Ardell Photography (@jenaardell) November 21, 2020
Dr Napper said that this is not just a wake-up call for how we treat our environment, but also how we look at technology. In particular, Dr Napper emphasised a meet-in-the-middle arrangement between nature and technology in the hopes of removing reliance upon plastic.
“With microplastics so ubiquitous in our environment, it’s time to focus on appropriate environmental solutions,” she said. “We need to protect and care for our planet. Currently, environmental efforts tend to focus on reducing, reusing, and recycling larger items of waste. This is important, but we also need to start focusing on deeper technological solutions that focus on microplastics, like changing fabric design and incorporating natural fibres instead of plastic when possible.”