Waste managementDetrimental effects of solid waste in the Everest region should be curbed in innovative and efficient ways
Tsewang Nuru Sherpa
For developing nations, adventurous tourism can be a means of economic development. Himalayan countries like Nepal have especially benefitted from such tourism. After the heroic summit of Mount Everest by the legendary Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary, Nepal has witnessed an expansion of the mountaineering industry. Since 1953, the number of mountaineers in the country has skyrocketed. Today, mountaineering is a significant source of revenue for Nepal.
With the growth of tourism in general and mountaineering in particular, people in the mountains have enjoyed a rise in employment opportunities. However, amidst all the economic benefits, the environment of the Everest region has degraded due to the growth in mountaineering expeditions. Strewn with garbage and discarded trash, the land has deteriorated due to an unprecedented rise in solid waste. The problem of solid waste has had serious impacts on the environment, including detrimental effects on local resources like fresh water, vegetation and wildlife.
According to a report published by the government of Nepal, the accumulation of solid waste became severe in the late 1980s due to the abrupt influx of mountaineers. Consequently, Everest was synonymous to phrases such as “Garbage Trail” and “World’s highest Junkyard”. Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son of the late Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, has issued a warning: “These activities have created a major ecological problem. Recent increase in Himalayan deaths, and disastrous avalanches and landslides, are symptoms of a new era of pollution and defilement”.
The environmental deterioration in the Everest region can have dire consequences on the local inhabitants. The fast-paced rise in temperature and “potentially dangerous” Glacial Lakes Outburst Floods (GLOFs) can expose the region to possible risks of flash floods. Similarly, the effects of overgrazing and rapid deforestation have accelerated the extinction of biodiversity.
And it is not only the state of the environment that has deteriorated. The culture of the people living in and around the Everest region has also been affected. Norgay further emphasises that “Gore-tex parkas have replaced chubas and other traditional robes, and Snickers bars have become as common as yak butter.”
On the brighter side, the need for solid waste management in the Everest region has not escaped the attention of concerned authorities. The government of Nepal has implemented a policy that requires all expedition groups to deposit a refundable fee. During the process, all the trekking goods that have the potential to become waste are weighed. Based on the goods that are brought back, the deposits are refunded. In addition, local organisations and people have taken the initiative to minimise solid waste pollution. The Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), which was established in 1991, has been continuously working on mitigation measures to address the issue of solid waste and pollution. One of SPCC’s major activities is to collect as much garbage as possible from the Everest base camp and from the trekking trails at the end of the trekking season. It has also installed waste disposal bins—76 of them so far—along the trails with the support of the local residents.
Tara Air, one of Nepal’s biggest airline service providers, has also joined hands with the SPCC to transport non-burnable garbage from Lukla to Kathmandu. In 2016, a total of 4,229kg of non-burnable trash was successfully transported to Kathmandu for further treatment in recycling centres. The three year agreement signed on June 29, 2016 has helped make the entire Khumbu region clean.
Similarly, local youth groups such as the Namche Youth Club have been actively participating in eliminating waste related problems by incinerating all non-biodegradable waste. The private sector has also been gearing up for the cleaning campaign and has led expedition teams to manage garbage. For example, Eco Everest Expedition, a private organisation working on waste management, has taken the initiative to encourage climbers to bring all the waste down to the base camp. It has gathered around 14,250kg of waste from the mountain slopes since 2008.
Following in its footsteps, other expedition groups such as Extreme Everest Expedition and Save Mount Everest Campaign have also been controlling the amount of waste in the Everest region. Eco-Himal, another private organisation, has been actively advocating immediate action to clean up the Everest region.
It has led several expeditions and has successfully removed around eight tonnes of rubbish from the mountain. Apart from cleaning campaigns and installing recycling facilities, Eco-Himal has also been disseminating relevant information, raising people’s awareness and encouraging their participation in biodiversity conservation and waste management.
Today, waste management and pollution control have been accorded top priority, and innovative solutions are being devised to address the issue. But the implementation of these solutions has been rather slow. Instead of commercialising Everest in the name of profits, let’s join hands to protect and respect it.
Sherpa is a WWF Nepal Scholar on the United States Youth Advisory Council