Garbage problem mounts in Hoh Xil nature reserve

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Hoh Xil is a nature reserve located in Qinghai, China. As one of the largest reserves in China, it has an average elevation of 4,600 meters and is home to diverse wildlife. Hoh Xil was recognized as the country’s 51st World Heritage Site in 2017.

People generally think of Hoh Xil as beautiful and mysterious since its “indigenous inhabitants” are protected species such as Tibetan antelopes and wild yaks, which usually keep their distance from people.

But in recent decades, this site of pristine natural beauty has been blighted by a distinctly man-made problem in the area adjacent to the Qinghai-Tibet Highway –– garbage.

According to data from the 2013 “Clean Qinghai-Tibet Highway” investigation and subsequent activities conducted by college students, volunteers, and staff from the Hoh Xil Protection and Management Bureau, a total of 159,187 pieces of garbage have been found around the highway. Aside from metal waste, packaging from items such as food and drink containers accounted for 97 percent of the discarded trash, with 63,602 plastic bottles making up an incredible 40 percent of the total.

Despite efforts to improve waste management in recent years, the issue has reemerged.

“I saw that huge garbage belt when I was still in the car — it was so obvious. The pile was around 200 meters long, 20 meters wide, and at least half a meter tall. We saw plastic, metal, cardboard boxes, even dead cattle and sheep! The smell was unbearable,” said a recent visitor to the area.

The garbage was primarily left by truck drivers and tourists. In the past 10 years, local communities benefiting from rising living standards have also contributed to the increasingly serious problem.

Would placing more trash cans solve the problem? Zhou Baoping from the management bureau didn’t think so. “This will only encourage people to discard more garbage. Trash cans will become garbage themselves,” argued Zhou.

Mao Da, the founder of the Beijing Zero-Waste Project, claimed that relevant research could only act as an alert for the ecosystem. If the issue is not contained, there will only be more garbage, with much of it not recyclable.

“Our biggest misconception is that the environment has unlimited capacity, and we can exploit it indefinitely,” said Mao.