It was back in the 1990s that Time magazine carried a news report regarding the increasing garbage in the Mt Everest with a cartoon. Nepali Sherpas became upset with a report whose heading goes like, “There are heaps of garbage in Mt. Everest that is as tall as Mt. Everest”. The news drew the attention of many stakeholders about the unmanaged garbage in the prestigious Mt Everest. The news followed a series of reports in the international media regarding garbage on Everest with headlines including ‘The World’s Highest Junkyard’, ‘Piles of Garbage’, ‘Scattered Human Dead Bodies on Everest’. The negative publicity of the Everest was being disseminated at a time when more than 40,000 people had visited the Everest region and around 6000 people had taken a permit to climb the tallest mountain in the world.
Along with the commencement of climbing season, the issue of garbage on the Everest had spread all over the world. International media also dubbed the Mt Everest as ‘Coca cola Trail’ and ‘Plastic Trail’ due to excessive number of coca cola bottles and plastics that are littered all over the trekking route. Along with the height of Mt. Everest, the issue of garbage had become notorious across the world due to the failure on the part of authority to formulate a policy for cleaning. In every public forum, the government officials have been facing questions about the garbage management in the Everest region.
Message of Hillary and Mt. Everest Garbage Publicity
In 2003 AD, the government had been marking the golden jubilee of first climbing of Mt. Everest. Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary had reached the summit of Mount Everest for the first time on 29 May 1953. In the program organized at Namche Bazzar, Sir Edmund Hillary delivered a message saying that Mt. Everest needed a rest for a while. The message hinted towards the increasing pollution in the Everest region. Representatives of the international media, gathered at the program, took note of Hillary’s view and disseminated the news across the globe about the deteriorating condition of Everest due to growing garbage. So the news about “heaps of garbage in the Mt Everest” had become international headlines.
Not only after the golden jubilee celebration of Everest Climbing, the international media had covered the news about garbage in the Mt Everest prior to that also. Ang Tshering Sherpa, former- president of Mountaineering Association recalls, “Time magazine carried a news about positive and negative aspects of Everest in 1993. The magazine had wrote that Everest in one size, heap of garbage in another size. It had also published two pictures side by side—one Sagarmatha and another illustration of garbage pile. We Sherpas become very upset then.” However, that was our bitter reality. Following the golden jubilee marking, the issue of garbage in the Everest has been covered regularly and widely by the media.
The amount garbage has been increasing every year due to the growing number of trekkers and climbers. According to authorities, about 6000 Nepalese and foreign climbers have climbed the Everest as of now. Of them, about 1500 teams have received permission to climb the Everest from south face or Nepal side and about 1200 teams got permission to climb from north face or from Tibet side.
According Ang Tshering Sherpa, in 66-year duration, around 50,000 people were granted the permission to climb Everest and out of them 6,000 people summited peak. Likewise, according to data published by Himalayan Data Base that was established by American Journalist Elizabeth Hali, 5294 climbers of 9159 team succeeded in reaching the summit of the Everest. The Himalayan Data Base has been keeping authorized record of Mountain climbing.
Some Everest climbers and some members of mountaineering expedition team never returned from Everest area. And most of the expedition teams didn’t bring back the remains of the stuff they used on the way. As a result, garbage started to pile up rapidly on Everest. An Italian Everest Mountaineering Team of 1973 was the largest team in the history of Everest climbing. During that time, 3500 porters reached the base camp by carrying bags. They had brought 126 tons of materials at the base camp. They used two MI 17 helicopter to bring the necessary stuff at base camp. Due to sound pollution created by those helicopters, Khumbu Icefall area witnessed an avalanche during that time. That expedition had become costly due to various causes. Former president Sherpa, who has been closely observing the expedition, said in comparison to the previous teams, mountaineering teams are pretty small in the years that followed. However, owing to the lack of proper management of pollution, the quantity of garbage has been increasing day by day.
New garbage production has been contributing to increase in quantity of garbage in the Everest region. People who are operating expedition in low cost and climbing Everest in alpine style has been leaving the garbage behind in the Everest area.
Buried garbage appearing on the surface
It has been noticed in the recent years that buried garbage and dead bodies have started surfacing in the area. Rise in temperature due to climate change and global warming has caused the melting of ice and glaciers. The melting of snow has exposed the buried dead bodies and garbage. Scientific research paper entitled “The Hindu kush Himalaya Assessment-Mountain, Climate change, Sustainability and people” published by International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has revealed that at the end of the century if the temperature rises 1.5 degree, then 36% of the ice and if carbon emission rate remains constant then 64% of the snow will melt down, causing the increase in sea level. As the Everest is melting, tons of dead bodies and garbage are being revealed. Record holder Aappa Sherpa, who conquered the Everest for a record 21 times, has witnessed many small icebergs and glaciers on the south face. He says that tons of old dead bodies and garbage are seen in areas near base camp 2,3 and 4.” Likewise, other climbers also say that the garbage and dead bodies have started appearing at a higher rate.
Everest climber as well as Everest cleaning campaign 2010 A.D member Pasang Sherpa said that it’s very hard to collect the garbage and dead bodies from camp 2 near south side. International mountain guide as well as Everest climber Lakpa Sherpa said that the path from south face to summit (8848 m) is sufficient to know about the misery of Everest. According to him, during the devastating earthquake of 2015 most of the company left the tent unmanaged and that wastes can be seen on the surface. Plastics, ropes, fruit cans, oxygen bottles, tents can be seen easily from camp 2 all over the way. Twenty times Everest conqueror, Pemba Dorje said that dead bodies are scattered around south face, south summit, Hilary step. The deceased body is to be managed by the respective company by bringing it down to the camp but the responsibility hasn’t been fulfilled. Dorje had a terrifying experience while resting on a dead body in south summit.
Eight climbers died during a snowstorm of 1996 A.D. This incident is one of the biggest tragedies in which three Indians, two Kiwis and one American and a Japanese citizen were killed. The snowstorm hit the Everest on 10th and 11th of May in 1996, and the body of deceased American climber Scott Phisure is still there on the balcony of Everest.
Sixteen Sherpas were killed during 2014 khumbu Icefall. Most of the bodies were buried by in the snow. The 2015 earthquake caused an avalanche, killing eighteen people. Eleven climbers were killed during spring of 2019. Only few dead bodies have been retrieved, while the rest have been left to freeze. According to the database, 295 people have been killed in Everest so far. But Everest climber as well as mountaineering blogger Allen Arnet claimed that 170 people were killed between 1923 and 1999 A.D, and 134 were killed between 2000 and 2019 A.D. in Everest. The problem in the Everest region above 8000 meter is scattered dead bodies. UK based Everest recovery organization claims that around 200 bodies are left unmanaged and scattered on the Everest.
Human waste is also having a terrifying effect on Everest. “Human excreta is another big problem of Everest,” said Nepal Mountaineering Association’s Former President Sherpa. The water source gets contaminated with human excreta and people from lower region have to drink the contaminated water. Every year, thousands of people and around 50 teams travel to Everest. All of them use temporary toilet as tent which is available only in the base camp. Above the camp, people defecate in the open. Releasing the feces on the snow makes it too yellow. Only a few companies have adopted the practice of using toilet bags. Such bag costs $20 in the base camp.
25 years of cleaning campaign
Stakeholders were badly shocked due to the article published in Time magazine about the garbage and dead bodies in Everest in 1993 A.D. Former president Sherpa said, “after three years of publication of article in 1996 A.D. Nepal government formed a team of 36 climbers of Sherpa to clean up the waste up to the base camp of Everest. This team collected about 3,500 kilograms of garbage. Among the collected garbage, bear bottles contributed for a maximum amount of garbage.”
Likewise, Japanese citizen Kean Noguchi started Everest cleaning campaign by himself. With the help of volunteers, he started the campaign in 2000 A.D. According to ‘The Guardian’ (29 May 2007), this campaign was run for 5 times till 2007 A.D. About 9,000 kilograms of garbage were collected from both southern and northern part during the process. Conqueror of all tallest peaks of 7 continents, Noguchi successfully climbed Everest in 1999 A.D. In his interview with CNN back in 2007 A.D. he insisted that after seeing highly popular Everest being heavily polluted, he decided to clean it up and spread awareness about cleaning.
Back in 2008 A.D. Asian Trekking started cleaning campaign giving the name as “Eco Everest Expedition”. Members of this team climb the Everest as well as bring back the garbage down. According to president of the organization, Aang Chiring Sherpa, in eleven years, about 20,000 kg garbage are collected and managed. They also brought seven dead bodies back. Among them, four were of foreigners and three were Sherpas. This campaign was initially supported ICIMOD, WWF and Nepal Mountaineering Union.
In 2010, 31 climbers came together to clean up Everest above 8000 meters. The expedition named “Extreme Everest Expedition 2010” collected 1,800 kilograms of waste and 2 dead bodies. The cost for the campaign was managed under the leadership of Nepal Investment Bank. This campaign called on the government, climbers, trekking agencies to become more responsible about the management of waste. Soon after the campaign in spring of 2011 Department of Tourism enforced a new rule that every climber—both Nepalese and foreigner—who attempt to conquer Everest should bring back at least eight kilograms of waste. This move not only brought awareness among the climbers about the need to bring back the waste, it also made mandatory to bring back the waste.
In 2011, Everest summiteer association led a campaign which cleaned the mountain up to camp two. And, a 29-member team collected 8,100 kilograms of waste from the base camp to the altitude of 8,700 meters. Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Eco-Himalaya and other few organizations were involved in the campaign.
Recently in spring of 2019 Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Nepal Tourism Board, Ministry of Forests and Environment, Province 1, Sagarmatha National Park, Nepali Army, Nepal Mountaineering Union, Khumbu Pasang Lhamu rural municipality, Sagarmatha pollution control committee and other few local organizations as well as local residents collectively ran a cleaning campaign. Financial and administrative officer of Sagarmatha pollution control committee Nishan Shrestha said 4,692 kilograms of garbage were collected from camp 2 and 5,694 kilograms were collected from the base camp area. The team collected 4 dead bodies from camp 2 and base camp. According to Shrestha, all level of government, federal, province and local were involved in the campaign which started on 1st of Nepali month Baisakh (April-May) and lasted till 23rd of Jestha (June-July). The budget for the campaign was 27 million.
According to Shrestha, apart from collection of wastes, they also did activities. Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee established processing center in Namche Bazar. The other activities including construction of museum from waste materials is underway in Syangboche. Combustible waste are managed in Namche Bazar while non-combustible waste are sent back to Lukla under the campaign “Carry Me Back”.
Kami Rita Sherpa, who holds a record for climbing Everest 24 times, isn’t satisfied with the work of the cleaning campaign. He complained that government has spent around 3 crores in the name of cleaning but there is lot of waste above camp 2. He blamed that only a few people climb up to clean the Everest, while the other team members roam around the base camp. Also, Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee only collects money from the climbers.
Some positive vibes have been sent by the cleaning campaign of 2019 A.D. Climbers have now begun to bring back empty oxygen cylinders. These empty cylinders have a price tag of $200.
Government should tap the possibilities
There are innumerable ways, if the government has the willingness to do. Piles of garbage were common sight at the Everest base camp area until a decade ago. But things have changed now. The Everest base camp area is becoming cleaner in comparison to the past because of the cleaning campaigns. Cleaning above the base camp area is still a challenge. It is necessary to take some dedicated step for changes. Government has been collecting $4000 from climbers in the name of ‘garbage deposit’ since 1994. The deposit amount will be refunded once they submit the garbage, which they have carried to the Everest base camp, to Kathmandu metropolitan city. It is the responsibility of the state to manage the garbage of mountain above 7000 meters. Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) should have important role to manage the garbage at Everest and other mountains too. As the climbers are required to pay $240 per KG for submitting the garbage. Because of this rule, most of the climbers have been returning with less than 8kg garbage. This has shown the lackadaisical approach in cleaning the Everest. Climbers are motivated by the mindset that it is the responsibility of the respective ministry to manage the garbage as they have to pay excessive amount as climbing fee. While the Sherpa climbers think that Everest is becoming polluted due to the foreigners, so they should be held accountable to manage the garbage. Ex-president Sherpa said that the fee should be charged under the heading of garbage management instead of garbage deposit. He added that Everest cleaning campaign should be conducted in every two years.
Though the climbers assume it just as a formality. Kami Rita Sherpa said the garbage could not be managed at the Everest due to the failure on the part of authorities to implement the rules and regulations. He said the rules should be strictly enforced to all climbers whether they are Nepali or foreigner. He added that the deposit of the trekking agencies turning deaf ear to the rules should be confiscation. Everest pollution Control committee (EPCC) is the office established to manage the garbage below 7000 meters mountains. Because of the provision the garbage increases in the base camp area during the tourist season.
According to tourism law, dead body of climbers during the climbing season should be managed below the base camp without any hamper to glacier lake. The state should pay serious attention for this matter and this compulsory law should be applied.
Chinese government had organized the Everest cleaning campaign at northern face in last spring. Climbing permission was not given because of that cleaning campaign. China organizes cleaning campaign in every two years. Only limited climbers get the permission during climbing season. $1500 is taken as ‘Garbage fee’ from each climber. Tibet mountaineer’s association has made the rule that a Sherpa guide is compulsory for a single client. Likewise, it is necessary to return at least 8 kg garbage, otherwise $100 per kg should be paid as fine. Before climbing Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain of Africa, all the goods of climbers are checked and registered seriously. In Europe’s highest peak Mont Blanc, 250 climbers climb daily. They have properly managed the garbage.
In Nepal also, all the goods of climbers should be checked and registered before and after climbing to find whether they return their garbage or not. The contact officers have important role for this. They should monitor the garbage management at the base camp. Most of the officer won’t reach base camp and won’t stay there during the entire climbing season. This approach needs to change. Officers get all the logistics and gears along with $3000 from respective company. Bad officers should be punished and genuine officers should be rewarded which is the responsibility of the government. Everest is the world’s highest source of water. According to report of National geography, 1.4 billion peoples are dependent on the water flowing through Himalayas. The human race should take the responsibility to conserve such a priceless source. It is more than necessary to avoid mixing the fecal matters and urine to the sources of water. The government must impose the rules for mandatory toilet bags in the Everest region.
The study report of NEPALKO PARBATIYA PARYATAN SUDHAAR SUJHAAB SAMITI 2076, in the sub topic of garbage management, has put forward various suggestions for keeping the Everest clean. The state should make a clear policy and apply it effectively by taking into account all these suggestions, concerns, worries and inputs from all stakeholders. Otherwise, a serious question about the garbage on Mt Everest will always be raised in the international forums. Everest is a wonderful gift of nature to mankind. Registered in world’s heritage list, Mt Everest is the pride of Nepal and all Nepalese. It’s the property of the entire human race. Let’s not make it a dumping site and cemetery of unclaimed dead bodies.