The world's tallest peak isn't quite as pristine as it was when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first conquered it 60 years ago. After decades of expeditions—670 people attempted the climb during just one week of May 2013—the trail is littered with trash, including abandoned oxygen canisters, broken hiking gear, rope, beer cans and more. Since 2000, however, several environmental groups have organized mountain cleanups; and the Mt. Everest 8848 Art Project converted 1.5 tons of trash to art last year.
The Pacific Ocean
Hawaii may be one of the most beautiful places on earth, but its proximity to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge, swirling mass of floating trash in the Pacific Ocean, means that Kamilo Beach on the southernmost tip of The Big Island looks more like a landfill than a paradise. Chemical sludge, plastics, and other debris from Eastern Asia and the western United States get trapped in a vortex-like rotating system of currents called a gyre. In addition to defacing beaches, plastics from the Patch degrade into tiny pieces that birds and fish mistake for food. In 2010, scientists discovered similar garbage patches floating in the North Atlantic and Indian oceans.
The edge of the San Gabriel Valley
A twenty-minute drive from the imposing San Gabriel Mountains is another massive formation: the Puente Hills Landfill, the largest active municipal landfill in the United States. The landfill covers 1,365 acres; on half of the property, which is about the size of New York City's Central Park, trash from Los Angeles county stacks 500 feet high. The other half of the land is used to buffer surrounding communities from the fumes. Puente Hills will close in October (it will eventually be a county park) to make way for the much larger Mesquite Landfill nearby.
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Believe it or not, the nearly 13,000 miles surrounding Earth are crowded with garbage. In addition to large objects such as inactive satellites and parts of launch vehicles, scientists estimate that millions of smaller bits of trash—flecks of paint, fragments of metal, even a lost glove and camera whiz around our planet at up to 22,000 mph. The bits regularly fall toward earth, but they burn up in the atmosphere before making landfall. Space trash can be dangerous, though—NASA frequently replaces space shuttle windows after unfortunate collisions with the tiny garbage.
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