A clean-up campaign has begun at Mount Everest, aiming to airlift 100 tons of rubbish left behind by tourists and climbers of the world’s highest mountain.
This clean up every year has been going on since at least 40 years.
In 2015 The chief of Nepal’s mountaineering association recently announced that the levels of human waste left by climbers have reached a critical level, and the pollution is threatening to spread disease.
On its first day, 1,200kg (2,600lbs) of waste was flown from Lukla airport to Kathmandu for recycling.
Mountaineers are required to bring back whatever waste they generate on their climb.
But every year, local guides gather hundreds of kilograms of rubbish.
This year’s clean-up campaign is focused on items that could be recycled in the capital city, with privately-owned Yeti airlines helping to transport. They will continue to ship piles of recyclable rubbish throughout the year.
Most of the waste left on the mountain is empty beer bottles and cans, empty food tins, and discarded mountaineering and trekking equipment.
That can include oxygen bottles, which are essential for climbing at the highest altitudes.
Clean-up program have been run by local guides, known as Sherpas, for decades, but are now coordinated by the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), named after the Nepalese name for the mountain.
Sherpas are still the ones who collect the high-altitude waste.
As recently as 2000, rangers at Denali feared the mountain would have to close to the public due to an overwhelming amount of waste.
“Fifty years ago, it was huge,” veteran mountaineer Roger Robinson tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.
“I got involved, 40 years ago on a clean-up climb, and started to experience the drama of Denali being a very dirty mountain both with garbage and human waste and everything you could imagine,” Robinson said. “Back in those years, you could just pretty much poke an ice ax in the snow and come up with garbage.”
It was easy to teach people to keep the garbage under control Robinson remembered, but human waste proved a challenge.
“People were often sick at the camps from acquiring bad snow to melt for water, it was a concern all the time,” he said. “And that was one of our biggest issues, was having to go out and direct climbers to get snow away from the camps to melt for water.”
In response, the national park designed the Clean Mountain Can, known as a CMC to climbers. These cylindrical containers measure 11 inches tall with an 8-inch diameter opening, and weigh 2.4 pounds. They are also specifically engineered to carry human waste at high elevations.
The CMC’s, Robinson says, are lined with biodegradable bags, which people will then dispose of through “crevassing.”
“These are large cracks in the glacier, 300 to 400 feet deep, and it takes fifty to several hundred or thousand years before it resurfaces,” Robinson said.
But will a solution like this work on Everest?
“It should,” Robinson said. “It really comes down to their government seeing this is a possibility.”
A successfully enforced “pack in-pack out” policy began in the late 1970’s, with climbers removing all their garbage from the Alaska Range.