Harmful plastics found near Everest summit

Traffic jam: This photo of tourists queuing to reach the summit went viral in 2019. © AP

Should climbing Everest be banned? Scientists have discovered microplastics near the summit of the tallest mountain in the world. Some say it is time to stop people visiting altogether.

What’s happening

In 1923, a journalist asked the explorer George Mallory why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. “Because it’s there,” he replied simply.

Now, nearly a century later, over 4,000 people have fulfilled the same dream. But the tallest mountain in the world is suffering as a result.

Find out more

Imogen Napper is a “plastic detective”. She travels the world looking for plastic in remote places.

Last week, her team announced they had found microplastics near the summit of Mount Everest, 8,440m above sea level.

Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic. They are so small that they can end up in the clouds and fall in rain or snow. “These are the highest microplastics discovered so far,” Imogen explained.

They are not the only problem on Everest. Last year, the peak was so busy with climbers that 300 people had to queue for hours to reach the top. And mountaineers leave rubbish behind – like tents and empty water cans. As more and more visit each year, the waste is piling up.

Should climbing Everest be banned?

Some say…

Yes. It is not just microplastics up there: the summit is littered with rubbish. There are tents, oxygen tanks and empty bottles. Worse still, there are so many tourists that people have become ill queuing to reach the top – some have even died. Climbing Everest is not worth the risk. Besides, there are many other peaks. Why obsess over this one?

Others think…

No. You cannot stop people from wanting to conquer the highest mountain in the world. Having goals is part of what makes us human. If we banned it, people would just break the rules and climb it illegally. This would be more harmful and much more dangerous. Instead, there should be new rules about what you can leave there.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather climb Everest or be the first person to land on Mars?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are heading off to climb Mount Everest. The average trip takes about two months. Make a packing list for everything you think you might need.

Some People Say...

“Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons.”

Edmund Hillary, joint first person to climb Everest

What do you think?

Word Watch

George Mallory
An English explorer who took part in three missions to Mount Everest. He was never successful in reaching the top, and eventually died on the North Face of the mountain in 1924.
Mount Everest
The highest mountain in the world is 8,848m high. The first people to climb it were Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay from Nepal. They were successful in 1953.
Century
A period of 100 years.
Fulfilled
To carry out a plan or, in this case, a lifelong dream.
Particles
Tiny bits that make up a larger object.
Littered
To litter is to drop rubbish somewhere it is not supposed to be instead of putting it in the bin.
Oxygen tanks
The amount of oxygen – the gas we need to survive – is much lower high above ground. Mountaineers need to take tanks of it to make sure they can breathe while climbing. When they are empty, lots of people leave them behind.
Ill
Some became unwell from altitude sickness. This happens if you do not have enough oxygen in your tank. Others got frostbite on their fingers and toes – a condition that happens in extreme cold. Frostbite can lead to the affected part of your body falling off.
Conquer
To win or take charge of something, often by force. For example, historic knights conquered their enemies’ land after battles.

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