Everest, the World’s Highest Landfill

mount everest

Mount Everest is the king of mountains. For every person that loves climbing, the ascent on Everest’s summit is a dream. But, in recent years, a problem has surfaced. The mountain has rapidly become the world’s highest garbage dump.

The reason is the mountain’s popularity. Dozens of tourists, climbers, and trekkers visit Everest’s summit each year and a lot of them leave their trash behind.

Empty oxygen tanks, climbing equipment, torn tents, food containers, and human waste have been left behind by climbers. And the biggest problem is the mentality of new climbers. Some of them think of climbing as a hobby, not showing the appropriate respect to the natural environment.

Global warming has made the problem bigger. The ice melts, and garbage that was underneath the snow comes to the surface.

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay saw a different view when they first reached the 8,848-meter summit in 1953. Since then, about 5,000 people have reached the summit, leaving behind traces.

Governments take action

The situation is so dire that the Nepalese and Chinese authorities had to take action. In Nepal, climbers and companies that lead climbing expeditions try not to leave garbage behind. At the same time, Chinese authorities had to close the base camp in February and give access only to mountaineers with climbing permits.

Every year there are Eco Everest Expeditions that aim to clean the mountain slopes. Moreover, the Nepalese government uses a deposit system. Climbing expeditions have to give a deposit of 5,000 dollars. They can get their money back after the expedition if government officials confirm that the climbers did not leave garbage behind.

For an expedition to be determined as “clean”, each mountaineer must bring back at least 8 kilos of trash. However, most of them do not follow the rules. Some think the 5,000 dollars is a small amount of money compared with the thousands of dollars that climbers pay in order to visit Everest, while others accuse officials of taking small bribes in order to turn a blind eye.

In 2017, a cleaning expedition was organized, and climbers in Nepal gathered 25 tonnes of trash and 15 tonnes of human waste -the equivalent of three double-decker buses- according to the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC). Also, in May 2018, a team brought back 8.5 tonnes of waste from the northern slopes, according to China’s Global Times.

One of the main problems seems to be the inexperience of tour guides and sherpas. In previous years, climbers used to carry their own gear on the mountain. Nowadays, tour guides who want to please the customers, carry the client’s gear themselves. That means that except for the climbing equipment, they also have to carry the trash. Usually, that means that inexperienced tour guides decide to just leave the garbage on the mountain slopes.

Experts also warn that the waste from Everest contaminates nearby rivers. A major problem is human excrement’s. Local climbers bring the poop down in barrels and dump it into pits. But the waste washes down during monsoon season in the summer. Visitors complain that they suffer from diarrhea, which could be the result of residues from human waste in the water supply.


Is there a solution?

First comes public awareness and educating mountaineers. Climbers need to understand that they visit a beautiful natural environment, and they shouldn’t leave their footprint coming back.

What is encouraging that each year there are expeditions that aim to clean up the mountain slopes from trash.

Some companies (like Biogas Project) bring down human waste and -using an environmentally friendly way- they turn it to fertilizer. There is also Sagarmatha next, an organization which aims to create art out of trash collected from Sagarmatha National Park.

According to the New York Times, organizers of a cleanup campaign in Nepal want to collect and recycle 200,000 pounds of trash. It is an ambitious project that involves teams designed specifically for cleaning the slopes.

The authorities have also decided to install on the trails 16 waste dumping sites, 46 trash cans, and three toilets.

Also, most of the people that fight for cleaning Mount Everest agree on one thing. Governments should enforce the law and make people part of the solution, not the problem.