Can Wales' highest mountain, Yr Wyddfa, truly become plastic-free

Yr Wyddfa summit

Yr Wyddfa's summit rises 1,085 meters (3,560 feet) above the Welsh countryside.

Until you reach Scotland's Ben Nevis, which is 260 miles (418 km) away as the crow flies, it is the highest point in Britain.

Yr Wyddfa, or Snowdon as it is also known, is one of the most pristine environments in the country because of its isolation.

However, research indicates that it faces the same threats from plastic, a growing threat to the natural world, as many more populated areas.

Microplastics were discovered in soil samples collected for the Eryri, also known as Snowdonia, National Park, all the way up the Llanberis path to the summit.

In addition to the amount of obvious trash left on the slopes, sizeable amounts were also discovered at the peak itself.

The mountain is making an effort to defend itself. In order to make the mountain the first in the world to be plastic-free, the park started the Plastic Free Yr Wyddfa project in April.

The Plastic Free Yr Wyddfa officer Alec Young considers his work to be personal. Born and raised in the park, he returned after a few years away with a background in sustainability, hoping to "change it for the better" and "have a more local impact on the place that I love.".

Alec Young
Alec Young, the project officer, is a local and is eager to aid in restoring the environment there.

There is no mention of environmental police stationed at Eryri's entrances to detain visitors who might bring single-use plastic.

Alec and the project's collaborators are instead trying to influence locals, tourists, and business owners—some of whom are already on board—to change their behavior.

The goal is to drastically cut down on all litter on the mountain, with single-use plastics receiving special attention.

Plas Coch Guest House is run by Fiona and Rob Nicholson in Llanberis.

They were former south east England headteachers who "wanted to stop being tourists who came to the area" and support the community's economy and environment.

Fiona and Rob Nicholson
At the Plas Coch Guesthouse, Fiona and Rob Nicholson have banned the use of single-use plastics.

Since 95 percent of their visitors are there to climb Yr Wyddfa, the couple has focused on how they can make it easier for walkers to eat and drink without having an adverse effect on the environment.

Fuel Your Mountain Day is the name we gave to our packed lunch initiative because we believed it to be more than just a meal, according to Fiona. You must be safely transported both up and down the mountain.

We ask visitors what kind of sandwich they would like, make that, put it in a brown paper bag, and then set out the other items they can take with them.

"They can take the metal water bottles we have. We have flasks, so we ask them what hot beverage they'd like to put inside.

We do send them up the mountain with a green composting bag and ask them to bring back everything they take with them. We also have fresh fruit. ".

Additionally, there is a recycling station at the inn where visitors can dispose of any food waste, used paper bags, and soft plastics of their own, if any, for composting or recycling. For tourists passing by, they also have a water refill station.

Rob Nicholson
Rob Nicholson (r) participates in Yr Wyddfa's volunteer litter-picking efforts.

They no longer provide anything in single-use plastic, such as biscuit packs or UHT milk pots, in favor of freshly baked flapjacks, Welsh cakes, and jugs of fresh milk that guests are free to help themselves with.

The couple claimed that because they no longer need to pay for commercial refuse collection, these changes have allowed them to save about £1,000 a year on waste charges.

"I feel like we've improved the quality of what we do every time we've done something to remove single-use plastics," said Rob.

The Snowdonia Society's director, John Harold, claimed that for more than 50 years, the group had been on the "sharp end" of removing trash from the mountain and the larger national park.

Single-use plastics have taken a greater and greater share of the market, he claimed.

John Harold
According to John Harold, director of the Snowdonia Society, prevention will be crucial in lowering the amount of plastic waste on Yr Wyddfa.

John cited a litter collection effort on a single path segment that produced several hundred disposable beverage bottles.

"These are phenomenal numbers," he said, "when you multiply that across the area and across the year.".

Every year, Cymdeithas Eryri cleans up about a tonne of trash from Yr Wyddfa and the city's most popular tourist destinations. It is a substantial amount of waste, the majority of which is light plastic.

The project, according to him, was about "inspiring people," "respect," and "pride.".

"You can't police your way to an answer here," he continued. ".

Snowdon Mountain Railway
For the first time since 2019, trains will run all the way to the top of Yr Wyddfa in June.

The visitor train, Hafod Eryri, the café at the summit, as well as a number of businesses at the mountain's base, are run by Snowdon Mountain Railway.

It is getting ready to resume trips all the way up Yr Wyddfa and to open the café again in June after a nearly four-year closure due to the pandemic.

Vince Hughes, the commercial manager for the railway, claimed that after meeting Alec for the first time, he became aware of potential areas for change.

According to him, if you look at our other retail areas, the amount of single-use plastic was going unnoticed. "I think a lot of people might think it means plastic bottles, drink bottles, etc.," Mr. Hughes said.

Magnets arriving individually wrapped in plastic and being thrown out as soon as they went on display was one "easy fix.".

He questioned, "Why are they placing them into these packets that we don't want and nobody is using?

If you want to completely avoid using plastic, it's no easy task to supply a café at the top of a mountain without access to its own water source.

The café cannot overnight switch to refilling bottles for customers because it needs 10,000 liters of water transported up by train each day to cover its own uses and toilet requirements.

Making changes to the café's supplies will be difficult. Due to the fact that cans cannot be resealed, the switch to them has not been successful in the past.

But alternatives are being considered. A water borehole company will conduct preliminary research to see if it is possible to extract drinking water directly from the mountain, which could drastically alter the café's situation.

Alec emphasized the need to avoid "demonizing" plastic, which, when used properly, can be incredibly useful.

Instead, the key will be to motivate visitors to cut back on their consumption and discard any single-use plastic they may have brought with them.

Alec said that a lot of it revolves around persuading people to plan ahead, think creatively, "refill before the hill," reuse, and recycle.

Catherine and Lee Munton
Lee and Catherine Munton support the campaign's "positive message.".

So what do Yr Wyddfa visitors think of the initiative?

The message that "we're all about sustainability" is one that Catherine Munton, a resident of Newcastle upon Tyne, found to be extremely encouraging.

She and her husband Lee were not shocked to learn how much trash had been gathered. Catherine continued, "It's terrible that people don't take it home.

Michelle Marshall and Sharon Langton
Sharon Langton and Michelle Marshall believe that individuals should take their trash home with them.

More trash cans, according to Michelle Marshall and Sharon Langton of Middleton, a town close to Manchester.

Why doesn't everyone just throw their trash in their bag? Everyone has a backpack; just take it home, Sharon advised.

Derek Littlejohn
Derek Littlejohn was dismayed by the volume of trash he encountered.

The quantity of plastic trash that Aberdeenshire resident Derek Littlejohn had observed disappointed him.

"It's a shame to see it in that sort of state, having just walked up there and seen how much plastic is on the actual mountain itself," he said. He was in favor of eliminating plastic.

"It would be great to do anything to prevent that from happening. ".

Andrew Franco
According to Andrew Franco, using plastic when hiking is unnecessary.

Californian Andrew Franco said, "I feel that as a hiker you probably have a job to appreciate all the nature that you are hiking in. "Thermoses and reusable water bottles are excellent ideas. There is no need for plastic bottles. If you have snacks, it's simple to wrap them in parchment paper or kitchen paper. Plastic is not required for anything you are bringing with you. ".

George Herd contributed more information.

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