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How Much Trash is at the Top of the World?

A panoramic view of the snow-covered summit of Mount Everest towering above the clouds, representing the majestic natural wonder that draws climbers.

As visitor numbers soar, Mount Everest’s pollution problem worsens, endangering local people’s health and the watershed.

Tracing the Journey of the Majestic Sagarmatha

In 1953, the world was captivated by the daring triumph of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay as they reached the summit of Mount Everest. A remarkable achievement that marked the beginning of a new era for the majestic mountain.

Since then, adventurers and explorers from around the globe have been drawn to the towering height of Everest, seeking to leave their own mark on its awe-inspiring slopes. However, the influx of visitors has begun to take a toll on this natural marvel.

In recent years, Everest has faced an unprecedented surge in tourists, causing overcrowding and environmental degradation. Amidst this surge, the mountain has sadly become notorious as the “world’s highest garbage dump,” as refuse litters its once-pristine slopes.

A Troubling Legacy of Trash and Environmental Hazards

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979, Sagarmatha National Park was established to protect the magnificent Mount Everest and its wildlife. However, the increased number of tourists annually–well over 100,000 in fact–has had its effect on that delicate ecological equilibrium. Rampant deforestation for lodges and firewood has created ecological imbalance, yet the most critical problem lies its further down the mountain In any one season upwards of 600 mountaineers will make an assault on Mount Everest. The mountain has become overcrowded and dangerous to human life. Climbers face icy winds and long queues, inch along at snail’s pace over treacherous ground. Unfortunately, the mountain has also become a dumping ground. Each climber generates around 18 pounds of trash during their expedition, leaving behind discarded oxygen canisters, tents, and even human waste.

The consequences are dire. Glaciers spew decades’ worth of trash, and camps overflow with human waste. As climate change melts snow and ice, even more garbage is exposed, endangering the Everest watershed. This vital water source for nearby communities is now contaminated, posing serious health risks to residents. Waterborne diseases, including cholera and hepatitis A, are becoming a haunting reality.

Is Restoration Possible?

In an effort to tackle the mounting pollution on Mount Everest, both the Nepali government and nongovernmental organizations have taken steps towards cleaning up the mountain. In 2019, the Nepali government initiated a campaign to clear 10,000 kilograms of trash from the peak, alongside a deposit system that encourages climbers to bring back their garbage. Local organizations like the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) have been working relentlessly to manage waste, facilitate legal climbing, and educate visitors on environmental stewardship.

While concerns have been raised regarding the number of climbers attempting the Everest summit, Nepal heavily relies on the income generated by climbing permits, which benefits the local economy and provides jobs. Despite the challenges, organizations, climbers, and the Nepali government are united in their commitment to restore the world’s highest peak to its former glory.

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