KATHMANDU: Decades of commercial mountaineering have made Everest the world's tallest garbage dump, as an increasing number of high-spending climbers pay little attention to the ugly footprint they leave behind.
Fluorescent tents, discarded climbing gear, empty gas canisters and even human excrement litter the well-trodden route to the top of the 8,848-meter (29,029-foot) peak.
"It's disgusting, an eyesore," Pemba Dorje Sherpa, who has reached Everest 18 times, told AFP. "The mountain is transporting tons of waste."
As the number of climbers on the mountain has skyrocketed - at least 600 people have climbed the world's highest peak so far this year - the problem has worsened.
Meanwhile, the melting of glaciers caused by global warming is exposing the trash that has accumulated on the mountain since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay achieved the first successful summit 65 years ago.
Efforts have been made. Five years ago, Nepal implemented a garbage dump of $ 4,000 per team that would be reimbursed if each climber lowered at least eight kilograms (18 pounds) of waste.
On the Tibet side of the Himalayan mountain, they are required to reduce the same amount and are fined $ 100 per kilogram if they do not.
In 2017, climbers in Nepal cut down nearly 25 tons of garbage and 15 tons of human waste, the equivalent of three double-decker buses, according to the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC).
This season it collapsed even more, but this is only a fraction of the garbage that is dumped each year, with only half of climbers carrying the required amounts, says the SPCC.
Instead, many climbers choose to lose the deposit, a drop in the bucket compared to the $ 20,000- $ 100,000 they will have saved for the experience.
Pemba shrugs that many just don't care. Compounding the problem, some officials take small bribes to turn a blind eye, he said.
"There is simply not enough monitoring in the high camps to ensure the mountain stays clean," he said.
The Everest industry has boomed in the past two decades.
This has sparked overcrowded concerns and fears that more and more inexperienced mountaineers will be lured in by low-cost expedition operators desperate for customers.
This inexperience is compounding the garbage problem, warns Damian Benegas, who has been climbing Everest for more than two decades with his twin brother Willie.
Sherpas, high-altitude guides and workers from the local indigenous ethnic group carry heavy items, such as tents, extra oxygen cylinders, and ropes, and then go back down.
Previously, most climbers carried their own personal equipment such as extra clothing, food, sleeping bag, and supplemental oxygen.
But now, many climbers can't do it, leaving the Sherpas to carry everything.
"They have to carry the client's equipment so they can't carry garbage," Benegas said.
He added that operators need to employ more workers at high altitudes to ensure that all customers, their equipment and garbage are safely on and off the mountain.
Environmentalists are concerned that pollution on Everest is also affecting water sources in the valley.
For the time being, the raw sewage from the base camp is carried to the next village, an hour's walk, and dumped into the trenches.
This then "creeps down the river during the monsoon," said Garry Porter, an American engineer who and his team may have the answer.
They are considering installing a biogas plant near Everest base camp that would turn the climber's pool into a useful fertilizer.
Another solution, he believes, Ang Tsering Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, would be a team dedicated to garbage collection.
Its Asian Trekking expedition operator, which has been running “Eco Everest Expeditions” for the past decade, has cut more than 18 tons of trash during that time, in addition to the eight kilo climber quota.
And last month, a 30-person cleanup team recovered 8.5 tons of debris from the northern slope, the Chinese state newspaper Global Times reported.
"It's not an easy job. The government needs to motivate groups to clean up and enforce the rules more strictly, ”Ang said.
Original article (in English)