A deplorable sight. A French explorer and his team have just found 1.6 tons of plastic waste in the Himalayas, as negotiations begin to try to curb this pollution on a global level. “It’s a real dump. Behind each rock, there are a lot of oxygen bottles, canned food, tent canvas, shoes, it’s really absurd”, testifies Luc Boisnard from Nepal, on his return from a first attempt to climb Makalu. , 8.485 meters, where he hopes to climb again soon.
The objective of this 53-year-old entrepreneur, a longtime mountaineer, is to clean up the high peaks which for many “have also become gigantic garbage cans”. Name of the operation and the association he created around this project: Himalayan Clean-Up. In 2011, a similar operation, entitled Saving Mount Everest (Save Everest) and led by Austrians, had already withdrawn nine tons of waste.
Waste thrown away to lighten the packages
The Makalu expedition, which left at the end of March, is his second after climbing Everest in 2010. At the same time, another member of the association has just come down from Annapurna (8,091 m). From these two climbs, the two men, each helped by a dozen Sherpas, have already brought back 3.7 tonnes of waste, including 45% of plastics (1,100 kg on Makalu and 550 kg on Annapurna).
A new illustration of the omnipresence of this petroleum-derived material, as the second round of negotiations opens in Paris on Monday to try to draw up a legally binding treaty by the end of 2024 under the aegis of the United Nations to put end to plastic pollution.
During his first expedition to the roof of the world, Luc Boisnard had already brought back a ton of waste, including 550 kg of plastic. Essentially this waste is the remains of altitude expeditions accumulated since 1920, the beginning of the region’s opening to tourism. Anxious to lighten their load – and sometimes also not very respectful of the environment – a certain number of budding climbers voluntarily leave part of their belongings around the base camps or even on the paths leading to the summits.
Some waste will reappear in 200 years
Some “are also thrown into the Himalayan glaciers from where they will only reappear in 200 years”, protests Luc Boisnard. These plastics disintegrate slowly, permanently polluting the landscapes but also the rivers.
Already in 2019 a scientific study had demonstrated the presence of microplastics (polyester, acrylic, nylon and polypropylene fibers) above 8,000 meters above sea level, including in the snow.
Beyond the question of waste, the first objective of the future plastic treaty will be the “reduction of the use and production of plastic”. The latter has more than doubled in twenty years to reach 460 million tonnes per year and could still triple by 2060 if nothing is done. Two-thirds are thrown away after just one or a few uses and less than 10% of plastic waste is recycled.