The climb up Mount Everest may seem like an unlikely place to find microplastic deposits, but scientists have done just that.
Samples collected from the world’s tallest mountain have plenty of microplastics present, and the cause is unexpected.
Microplastics were found higher up on Earth than ever before when samples were collected from the Balcony of Mount Everest, which is 8,440 metres above sea level. Polyester, acrylic, nylon and polypropylene fibres were all found on the mountain as well as the surrounding areas, and it seems to be because of high-performance mountaineering clothing that utilises the materials.
How the material ended up on the mountain is still under speculation. Some believe that larger items would have lost these materials during an ascent, while others think that high winds may have carried the material up from lower levels. Either way, when the 19 high elevations samples were collected in April and May, as part of National Geographic and Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition, the microplastics were present.
The highest concentration was found at Base Camp, with 79 microplastic fibres per litre of snow in the samples. This is concerning researchers, as microplastics harm ecosystems.
The samples were studied by the University of Plymouth, and in a press release, Professor Richard Thompson, who is head of marine litter research, contextualised the information:
Since the 1950s, plastics have been increasingly used in all kinds of products because of their practicality and durability. However, it is those qualities which are, in large part, creating the global environmental crisis we are seeing today.
There is now global recognition of the need to take action, with Nepal itself imposing regulations on climbing expeditions to try and curb the environmental problems created by waste.
This study and our continued research only emphasises the importance of designing materials that have the benefits of plastics without the lasting and harmful legacy.
It is clear that changes need to be made in the way we use materials, as microplastics begin to impact our largest mountains, which are difficult to reach. However, whether companies and governments will begin making substantial change remains to be seen.
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