People collect and sort garbage near Mount Qomolangma’s base camp in May. VCG
Plastic pollution has long been a problem, but now it’s gotten to a new height – literally.
Microplastics, referring to plastic fragments and particles less than 5 millimeters in diameter, have been found on Mount Qomolangma as high as 8,440 meters above sea level, just 408.86 meters below the peak of the mountain, according to a recent study published in the journal One Earth.
“These are the highest microplastics [ever] discovered so far,” lead author Imogen Napper from the University of Plymouth, UK, said in a statement.
Scientists collected snow and water samples from 19 different locations from 4,200 meters above sea level all the way up to the summit of Mount Qomolangma. They found microplastics in all the water samples and part of the snow samples. The most polluted sample was from the Base Camp in Nepal, where most human activity on the mountain is concentrated. It had 79 particles of microplastics per liter of snow.
But how have these fragments made it all this way and in such a great abundance? The answer is apparent – human activities. It is climbers who bring plastic products to the mountain. Even if they don’t litter, just walking for 20 minutes or opening a bottle of water can release microplastics into the environment.
The harsh fact is that plastic pollution has reached even the most remote places on Earth. Researchers even found a plastic bag at the deepest point in the world’s oceans – in the Mariana Trench, located in the Pacific Ocean. The bag is the same as the ones commonly used in grocery stores.
Even covered in ice, the Arctic is still a victim of plastic pollution. A 2020 report published in Nature suggests that there are 2,000 to 17,000 plastic particles per cubic meter in Arctic ice cores, and between 0 to 18 microplastic particles per cubic meter from the water beneath ice floes. Experts think microplastics may be transported by air and then reach the North Pole in snowfall.
“What we don’t yet fully know is the potential problems these tiny pieces of plastic could be having to ecosystems, to organisms and even to our own health as well,” said Christian Dunn of Bangor University, UK.
Then what can we do? “We need to start focusing on deeper technological solutions that focus on microplastics, like changing fabric design and incorporating natural fibers instead of plastic when possible,” Napper said.