World News

How Do You Remove 200,000 Pounds of Trash From Everest? Recruit Yaks.

Posted March 20, 2018 1:24 p.m. EDT

LUKLA, Nepal — Last weekend, a group of Sherpas gathered outside Buddha Lodge in this speck of a town near Mount Everest, stuffing cloth sacks filled with thousands of pounds of garbage into a turboprop plane.

As the number of trekkers and mountaineers winding through the Everest region has multiplied, so too has the trash — empty bottles of Tuborg beer, food cans, torn tents, empty oxygen bottles. Now, organizers of a national cleanup campaign have set a target of collecting and recycling 200,000 pounds of trash in the area, making it one of Nepal’s most ambitious waste management projects to date.

“Trash has become a major problem,” said Dalamu Sherpa, chairwoman of a local women’s group, adding that the project was partly about “saving the glory of the Everest region.”

Nepal has taken several steps to reduce garbage in the Khumbu region, which includes Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. In 2014, the country’s tourism ministry declared that anyone climbing the mountain must return from the trip with an extra 18 pounds of garbage.

But rules are loosely enforced in the area, and authorities have struggled to find a realistic solution to the problem. Every year, thousands of people snake along steep trails to reach South Base Camp, which sits more than 17,000 feet above sea level. The spring climbing season typically lasts from late April to the end of May.

Collecting the trash involves days of walking. Porters and yaks ferry garbage on their backs from a string of villages leading up to base camp, which takes about a week to reach by foot from Lukla.

Umesh Chandra Rai, chief executive of Yeti Airlines, a local operator, said the plan was to transport 200,000 pounds of garbage to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, by the end of the year, where it will be recycled. So far, about 24,000 pounds of garbage has been collected. Along the trails, 16 waste dumping sites, 46 trash cans and three toilets have also been installed.

“Previously, trash dumping areas were made of plastic sheets, so yaks easily destroyed them,” said Nim Dorjee Sherpa, a municipal official. “We have now installed rubbish bins made of stone and zinc sheets.”

The challenge of hauling material away is so vast that even the bodies of climbers who died on the mountain are sometimes left in place.

“It is very difficult not because of logistical and technical reasons, but because of the law,” said Ang Dorjee Sherpa, the head of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, which maintains the mountain. “We can’t cremate or bury the dead bodies without consent.”

On a recent cloudless Saturday morning as the temperature hovered around freezing, a dozen volunteers assembled at Tenzing-Hillary Airport, a busy tarmac perched on a cliffside, where sacks of trash were piled high.

As the bags were loaded into the cargo hold of the turboprop, ruddy-faced locals said littering would no longer be tolerated.

“Tourists are not fully abiding by our rules,” said Biruman Rai, the principal of a government school in town. “It is time to enforce the law.”