By: Amanda Froelich,
In the difficult ascent up the world’s tallest mountain, being environmentally-friendly seems to be the last concern for most hikers. And even though Mt. Everest may tower 5 miles above sea level, its slopes are no longer free from the plague of garbage which is abundant in lower-elevation wilderness areas.
Over 6,000 hikers have successfully ascended Mt. Everest in the last 60 years, but in that time Nepal’s mountain has become littered with bottles, oxygen tanks, cans, and other reminders of the strenuous hike. And while the challenging task may cause necessity to unload, it is clear the waste residing on the mountainside needs to be reduced. Because of this, the Nepalese have a plan:
In hopes of removing the accumulated garbage, Nepal recently announced a new rule last week that will now require all hikers to to bring back not only their own trash, but 8 kilograms – 17.6 pounds of trash – of garbage left on the mountain by previous hikers. According to the Agence France-Presse, this rule will take effect in April and will apply to anyone who travels beyond the mountain’s base camp.
“The government has decided in order to clean up Mt. Everest, each member of an expedition must bring back at least 8 kilos of garbage, apart from their own trash,” Nepalese tourism ministry official Madhusudan Burlakoti tells AFP. “Our earlier efforts have not been very effective. This time, if climbers don’t bring back garbage, we will take legal action and penalize them.”
Charging expeditions $4,000 for a garbage deposit (which is returned if hikers bring back down everything they brought) is already procedure, but the strategy has reportedly suffered from enforcement issues. The new rule is intended to make violators more visible, and to foster a collective sense of responsibility for Mount Everest that goes beyond lean packing and personal cleanliness.
While some assuredly feel they cannot be bothered to retain their trash, not all goods have been ditched out of carelessness. Many travelers leave behind items in attempt to shed weight, or to save themselves in quick life-or-death situations. The unforgiving slopes have claimed over 240 climbers since the early 20th century, and many bodies are still preserved on the mountain side in the extreme cold. Therefore, it is understandable that some trash litters the cold terrain for a variety of reasons.
But because hundreds of climbers successfully tame the mountain side every year, the garbage on Everest goes beyond necessity. Organizations like the Eco Everest Expedition have collected more than 13 tons of trash since 2008, and experts estimate another 10 tons are still waiting to be picked up and recycled. If each of the 658 people who reached the height of Everest in 2013 brought back 17.6 pounds of trash (assuming they packed lightly enough to carry the extra weight), they could have cut that 10 ton in half.
Initiatives like these will allow the world to continue thriving in a greener way. Opportunities for adventure abound, but like Justin Somper wrote, the true traveler “leaves nothing behind but footprints.” Hopefully Everest will soon serve as example of this truth.