Why is Mt Everest becoming a trash dump site?

Eak Raj Bastola

January 29, 2022


Why is Mt Everest becoming a trash dump site?

KATHMANDU: Mt Everest, the world’s highest mountain, has hit the headlines once again not because of other reasons but due to the pile of garbage – thanks to the climbers who do(not) have minds!

It might not be wrong if someone says Mount Everest has a mountain of trash – from leftovers to cans.

Unfortunately, it is the climbers who litter the mountains since garbage started piling up since the first successful attempt to conquer Everest in 1953.

Besides dead bodies, garbage on Everest includes food packages, can bins, oxygen cylinders, cooking gas, tents, and human poo, among others.

Despite the majestic spell Everest still casts from a distance, it is getting less charming to the climbers due to pollution.

Climbers collecting garbage from the Everest Base Camp.

Layers of garbage piled up on Everest are getting visible due to snow melting. Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee has been working to clean Mt Everest. However, its activities are focused on the base camp only.

It has been urgent to clean camp-2, camp-3, and camp-4 of Everest, according to PK Sherpa, a tourism entrepreneur, and a mountain climber.

These Himalayas may not retain the same alluring look thanks to snow melting as an impact of global warming, Sherpa said.

Sherpa has been running a campaign to clean Everest since 2010. As of now, he collected six dead bodies as well as a huge amount of garbage scattered around Everest, according to PK.

According to the Everest Summiteers Association, which has, in recent years, taken tons of debris off the mountain, there are still about 30 tons of trash left on the mountain.

A clean-up expedition to Mount Everest had removed 11 tonnes (11,000 kilos) of rubbish and four dead bodies from the world’s highest mountain in 2019.

Cleaners spent weeks collecting food wrappings, cans, bottles, and empty toxic cylinders, according to the Nepal Tourism Department.

The four bodies were exposed by melting snow and were carried to base camp and then flown to a hospital in Kathmandu for identification.

Garbage being airlifted from the Everest Base Camp.

Gesman Tamang, who climb Mt Everest fourth time has “encountered” the effect of global warming while climbing Mt Everest. “I could see some black rocks on the Khumbu Icefall,” he says.

Meanwhile, the story of garbage scattered in Camp 4 is no different. “You will find everything including food, tent, spoons, plates, and many more that is used during the expedition. This shows the amount of garbages on Everest,” says Tamang. He suggests the government enforce stricter measures to control garbages on the mountains.

“Lack of apathy on the part of the government is one of the reasons for the garbage on the mountains. No one seems to be bothered,” he adds.

The ignorance and negligence of the government, climbers, and stakeholders is the main reason for garbage in Everest. In other countries, there are strict rules, the climbers carry down to the deposit site the stool they do during climbing. But here, due to negligence, absentees of the government liaison officer have created a pile of garbage on the mountain, he said.

An investigation undertaken by the Center for Investigative Journalism, Nepal had revealed that only 24 out of the 37 Liasion Officers s deployed for the spring season in 2019 had reached the Everest Base Camp.

“Out of the 37 liaison officers, 13 officers had submitted their report about the summit without even going to the base camp. They basically stayed home. Our investigation shows that many of the officers in question were mainly government officials who are well connected to the country’s power centers,” the CIJ’s report published on July 22 had revealed.


Rescue efforts

Sadly, the existing regulations about the cleaning of the Himalayan region are not as effective as they are not strictly enforced.

For example, six years ago, Nepal made the proclamation that the 4000 dollars rubbish deposit per team would be refunded provided the climbers brought down at least 8 kg or 18 pounds of waste.

But, due to the absentees of Liasion officers and other representatives, no one will care and measure the amount of garbage that the climbers have brought down. It is another reason for the ignorance of the government for Everest cleanup, Tamang said.

Regarding the decree as means of money-making, many irresponsible climbers opted to forfeit the deposit rather than fulfilling their responsibility, whereas, on the Tibetan side of the Himalayan region, the same provision enforced differently is working effectively. There, on the Tibetan side, one is required to bring down 8 KG and failure to do so results in $100 per kilo as fine.

Doma Sherpa, Everest summiteer and a journalist by profession regrets that Mt Everest, at times, looks like a trash bin.

She holds the opinion that liaison officers should check the stuff being taken to the summit and verify it while climbing down to control garbage.

She opines that all stakeholders including the government, mountaineers, traders, and the locals need to take initiatives to make it clean and preserve its beauty.

Gyanendra Shrestha, a liaison officer, said “The government must keep updating the liaison officers regarding the deteriorating mountain environment and, liaison officers need to stay at the base of mountains entire season enforcing government rules and regulations.”

Added to garbage on Everest, global warming means glaciers and long-standing snow and ice on the mountain are rapidly receding. This is exposing more bodies and waste, as well as making climbs more risky and difficult.

The World Bank estimates that by 2050 we will be throwing out 3.4 billion tonnes of trash a year. These growing waste mountains contribute to greenhouse gases, releasing methane as they decompose, as well as providing a breeding ground for disease vectors.

“We need to clean up the garbage in the mountains that have been piled for many decades”, mountaineer Mingma Dorchi Sherpa said.

Mingma, however, is worried about the difficulties in climbing Everest in recent times. “In fact, climbing Everest has become tougher due to global warming,” he said adding, “The Khumbu Icefall is melting faster due to global warming.” Mingma David Sherpa said. “So, it’s time now to clean up Mt Everest to preserve it for the future.”

During the expedition above Camp III, Everest summiteer Nima Doma saw human fossils, and a pile of garbage spoiling the beauty of the Himalayas.

Similarly, Jangbu Sherpa, who has successfully climbed Mt Everest 16 times, has welcomed the idea of cleaning Peaks including Mt Everest. He said to Khabarhub, “It is wise to clean Everest as there are no climbers in the Everest area in this season.”

He is delighted that such cleans not only tidy the mountain peaks but sustain the lives of the locals and the Sherpas who though not as climbers but as cleaners get employment through the campaign. He hopes for a good collaboration from the Sherpas as they revere the Himalayas as their god, and are always delighted to maintain sanctity in those areas.

It needs more than a month to clean up it properly.

“The financial loss caused by COVID-19 can be recovered, but the damage caused by the pollution is irreparable,” Sherpa spoke gazing at the sky.

Cans, cylinders collected from the Everest.

Everest summiteer Pemba Dorjey Sherpa was skeptical about the outcome of such campaigns. Speaking to Khabarhub he said, “Millions of rupees is collected for Everest cleaning campaign, but there is no substantive improvement in sanitation and in overall mountain environment here.”

“It hurts me when they claim of collecting tons of garbage than they actually did and what is more shocking is the fact that mainstream media publish the same fudged data of inflated tonnage of garbage collection,” Pemba Dorjey added.

Everest has so much garbage — depleted oxygen cylinders, food packaging, rope — that climbers use the trash as a kind of signpost. Moreover, the tents are littering South Col, or Camp 4, which, at 8,000 meters (26,240 feet) is the highest campsite on Everest, just below the summit. The high winds at that elevation have scattered the tents and trash everywhere.

This May 21, 2019, photo provided by climber Dawa Steven Sherpa shows Camp Four, the highest camp on Mount Everest littered with abandoned tents. The record number of climbers on Mount Everest this season has left a cleanup crew grappling with how to clear away everything from abandoned tents to human waste that threatens drinking water. (Dawa Steven Sherpa/Asian Trekking via AP)

Over 600 people attempt to summit Mount Everest every climbing season during the few weeks of the year when weather conditions are just right. In addition, for every climber, there is at least one local worker who cooks, carries equipment, and guides the expedition.

Each of those climbers spends weeks on the mountain, adjusting to the altitude at a series of camps before advancing to the summit. During that time, each person generates, on average, around eight kilograms (18 pounds) of trash, and the majority of this waste gets left on the mountain.

The slopes are littered with discarded empty oxygen canisters, abandoned tents, food containers, and even human feces. At Base Camp, there are tented toilets with large collection barrels that can be carried away and emptied.

But that is where the toilet facilities end. For the rest of their expedition, climbers have to relieve themselves on the mountain.