Mountains of Plastic

Geneva, 10 December2021

Spotlight on rampant plastic pollution in the mountains, as experts explore ways forward on the occasion of the 2021 International Mountain Day.

When it comes to plastic pollution, marine ecosystems have long dominated public discourse; and with good reason, as the impact that plastic waste is having on the oceans, rivers and lakes around the world cannot be overstated. That withstanding, plastic waste – including microplastics that are easily carried by air – can be found in even the remotest of mountain regions, degrading the biodiversity of these pristine ecosystems, and affecting negatively the health and livelihoods of local populations.

On the occasion of the 2021 International Mountain Day, the Geneva Environment Network in partnership with the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, GRID-Arendal, the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are organising an online event to shed light on the challenges posed by mountain plastic pollution, and to offer solutions that can help address the issue successfully. Sustainable mountain tourism, the overarching theme of this year’s International Mountain Day observance, lends itself nicely to the dialogue about plastic waste pollution in the mountains.

Mountain tourism, currently accounting for 15 to 20 per cent of the global tourism industry, is a key driver of development and prosperity for local populations, especially in developing countries. However, when sustainability is not taken into consideration, what started out as a blessing, can quickly turn into a threat. Currently, the plastic waste tourism footprint in mountains far exceeds that of local populations. Research by the BRS Secretariat reveals that in certain mountain regions, tourism has prompted an up to 38-fold increase of plastic waste generation within just three years.

Meanwhile, mountainous regions face specific challenges in addressing plastic waste due to their remoteness, limited access to human and financial resources, lack of economies of scale, and challenging natural conditions. Due to limited capacities and infrastructure in managing plastic waste, locals and tourists often resort to dumping and burning plastic waste outdoors, which in turn has dire repercussions on their health and the environment. It’s no wonder that a study carried out in the Himalayas has identified the presence of persistent organic pollutants in mountainous regions, with more volatile pollutants prone to concentrate at the higher and colder sites.[1] These and other conclusions are framing the development by the BRS Secretariat of its soon-to-be released report on plastic waste in remote and mountainous areas.

Abandoning mountain tourism altogether is not a viable solution, especially since the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic have further compounded the vulnerabilities of mountain communities. The answer lies in using sustainability as a compass to tap into local potential and reinforce it with regulatory frameworks, robust infrastructure, and access to innovative solutions.

Success stories include garbage declaration and clearance systems for mountain expeditions in Nepal, the set-up of community-run collection centres in countries across the globe, recycling of bottles into ponchillas in Peru, engaging mountaineers in clean-up operations in Switzerland, creating full-cycle infrastructure for waste-sorting and management in a national park in Kazakhstan.

In addition, thanks to funding from the governments of Norway and France, the BRS Secretariat is implementing a project on Plastic Waste in Remote and Mountainous Areas which will strengthen capacities in managing plastic waste.

Mountain guides and mountaineers are also stepping up to advocate for plastic-free mountains. UNEP’s Mountain Heroes campaign, implemented in collaboration with the International Olympic Committee, capitalizes on the visibility of renown athletes to promote the environmental protection of mountains. The UIAA has established the UIAA Mountain Protection Award to showcase and reward responsible and sustainable behaviour and practices by climbers. And the IFMGA has in place a code of conduct for professional mountain guides, rendering them responsible for removing waste from their excursions.

The Plastic Waste in Mountains event will offer information on all the aforementioned initiatives, as well as insights from the 2021 Global Waste in Mountains Survey by GRID-Arendal. The event is part of the Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues, organized by the Geneva Environment Network.

Note for Editors:

The Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, or BRS Secretariat, supports Parties implement the three leading multilateral environment agreements governing chemicals and waste management, in order to protect human health and the environment. See for more information and follow the @brsmeas Twitter feed for daily news.

For more information, please contact:

For technical questions on mountain plastic waste pollution, please contact: Jost Dittkrist, BRS Programme Management Officer
For media inquiries please, contact: Marisofi Giannouli, BRS Associate Public Information officer,

[1] X.-P. Wang, T.-D. Yao, Z.-Y. Cong, X.-L. Yan, S.-C. Kang, Y. Zhang (March 2007). Distribution of Persistent Organic Pollutants in Soil and Grasses Around Mt. Qomolangma, China. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. 153-62.