The world’s highest mountain has, in the last few decades, turned into the world’s highest-altitude rubbish dump, thanks to wealthy tourists who mindlessly leave a trail of disgusting refuse in their wake.
Since explorer Sir Edmund Hillary reached the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) peak of Everest – known as Chomolungma in Tibet and Sagarmatha in Nepal – in 1953, thousands more thrill-seekers have attempted the trek. But what goes up doesn’t always come back down, resulting in tonnes of trash littering the mountain’s slopes.
The problem isn’t like that of the corpses of dead hikers, which are often in positions too precarious to be safely retrieved.
Instead, when tourists pack up their relatively easily accessible camps, they leave behind tents, broken climbing equipment, empty gas canisters, and a whole lot of excrement.
“It is disgusting, an eyesore,” Pemba Dorje Sherpa told AFP. “The mountain is carrying tonnes of waste.”
Both Tibet and Nepal have implemented systems to try to encourage climbers to bring down their waste. Tibet fines climbers US$100 per kilogram they leave behind, and Nepal charges a $4,000 deposit per team that’s refunded if each member brings down at least 8 kilograms (18 pounds) of rubbish.
On the Nepal side, that resulted in climbers returning 25 tonnes of trash and 15 tonnes of excrement, but that’s just a small portion of the litter on the slopes – the problem is that many tourists, who are already spending up to $100,000 for the trek, simply don’t care about the deposit.
According to a 2016 report, local Sherpas remove 11,793 kg (26,000 pounds) of human faeces from the mountain every season, dumping it in trenches in a nearby village. This becomes a festering pit of putrid grossness that the locals have to live with: during the monsoon season, it gets flushed downhill into their river.
There are people looking for a solution to these problems. Engineers are looking to convert the waste pits into a biogas plant to convert the waste into renewable fuel, and local groups are working to clean up the mountain.
China’s Everest cleanup brought down 8.5 tonnes of waste between April and June of this year, and the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee has been in operation on the Nepal side since 1991, implementing programs to keep the mountain clean.
The best course of action would be for humans to take responsibility for their own damn selves, but apparently that’s just too much to ask.