PICS: BIKRAM RAI
Since Edmund Hillary's ascent of Mt Everest in 1953, approximately 35,000 trekkers and 80,000 porters have visited the region each year leaving behind a total of 50 tons of waste. If it was all piled up on top of Mt Everest, the mountain could very well be higher than 9,000 m.
The garbage ranges from plastic food wrappers and beer bottles up to base camp, and climbing rope, aluminium ladders, oxygen cylinders higher up. There are even crushed remains of an Italian helicopter that crashed at Camp 2 in the Western Cwm in 1972, which is only now emerging from the Khumbu Ice Fall. Most of the waste is at Base Camp or the South Col, but even the summit is littered with trash.
"Up until 2008, there was no organised cleanup of the mountain," says Dawa Steven Sherpa, who for the last four years has led Eco Everest Expedition initiative, a privately funded cleanup campaign. In its first year, the team brought back 975 kg of waste, and this year 1,068 kg.
The garbage is brought to Namche, where it is separated into biodegradable and non-biodegradable items. Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, a local group responsible for waste management in Khumbu, turns the biodegradable waste into compost. But the cans, cylinders and mountaineering equipment are stored in a warehouse in Khumjung and are air-lifted to Kathmandu every time there is cargo space on a helicopter or plane flying out.
Eco Everest has also found more creative ways of disposing of oxygen cylinders, ice picks and crampons, which may have historical value and are being offered to the Mountaineering Museum in Pokhara. Other metal wastes have been handed over to the Kathmandu University School of Art and Design which organised an art exhibition in April 2009 called 'Garbage Out Of Thin Air'.
The Everest Summiteers Association in partnership with Eco Himal also implemented the 'Save Everest Campaign' in April this year, spending $750,000 to bring back 8.1 tons of garbage from the mountain and trekking trails.
Diwas Pokhrel of the Everest Summiteers Association says: "Once the waste is presented to the Prime Minister and the public in a formal program this month, we will forge metal souvenirs out of them." The Nepal Dhallot Udyog Sangh will recycle the metal trash into small khukuris, vases and bells to be sold to tourists with income used to fund future cleanup and other environment conservation programs.
Even after these initiatives, Eco Everest and Save Everest Campaign have only managed to skim the tip of the Mt Everest of garbage in Khumbu. A lot of the trash still remains on the mountain, much of the garbage that has been brought down is still in Khumjung waiting to be flown down to Kathmandu.
Says Pokhrel: "Our job doesn't end with collection of the waste. We plan to recycle and reuse them somehow."