Musa Masala, together with Thom Pollard, a mountaineer, cinematographer and true spiritual sage, looked at the issue of trash and human waste on Mt. Everest and the surrounding area during our livestream event in August of 2021. We used Mt. Everest, the highest and one of the most remote areas on the planet, as an example of the impact people have when they come into a pristine environment in large numbers.
Since our beginning at Everest Base Camp (EBC) in 2016, Musa Masala has been keen on exploring how the cultural awareness of travelers, including respect for the environment, can influence their enjoyment in the outdoors and impact the lives of people who live there. As medical workers, we agree with Dr. Jay Lemery and the late Dr. Paul Auerbach that climate change is a healthcare issue, and that “an environment in crisis is a population in crisis” (Enviromedics).
In this article, we would like to share with you some of the highlights from the show, including what the trash situation at Mt. Everest is and what is being done about it. Please see the links at the end of this article to view our program.
We interviewed people who are heavily invested in Mt. Everest and its future, including Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund Hillary, and expert guides Damien Benegas and David Liaño Gonzalez, who have years of experience guiding around the world. They told us about the current situation on the mountain and shared their opinions on the future of climbing on Mt. Everest.
We learned that yes, there is a trash problem on Mt. Everest, but it is also being dealt with, and things are getting better. Peter Hillary did a fantastic interview, during which he pointed out that the shocking trash footage from high up on Mt. Everest, which created a worldwide outrage, only occupied a few weeks of an entire year. He invited us to compare the situation on Everest to the daily trash we create in the rest of the world. We need to clean up our own yards before we point fingers!
Many of the trash disposal methods are leaving massive waste dumps that harm the communities below EBC and are not sustainable for years to come. Lower down the mountain, the traditional burning of trash is toxic to those living around the burn sites. The climbing community recognizes this issue. Many companies are taking positive steps to clean up after themselves while others, as you will see in the program, are not. Pressure must come partly from clients who choose who they climb with. The Nepal government does have fines in place but it is difficult for the officials to monitor and enforce the laws.
To keep the discussion solution-oriented, we spoke with people who are making changes and creating the opportunity for a cleaner, safer environment. In the second part of our show, Everest guide Dan Mazur shared with us the work that The Mount Everest BioGas Project is doing to create a solution for the solid waste problem. We interviewed Tommy Gustafson of Sagarmatha Next, an artist retreat and cultural center in Namche Bazaar that serves as a recycle, reuse, and repurpose project collective.
We also spoke with Jangji Doma Sherpa, from the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC). The SPCC is one of the main organizations that helps to keep the Sagarmatha National Park, which includes Everest, clean and maintained. Dr. Diana Yousef of Change Water Labs, an NGO that created a portable waterless toilet system, informed us on practical solutions to waste management in resource-limited settings, like space and Mt. Everest. We also included local guide Raj Shrestha and his group, Let’s Clean Up Nepal. For the lowdown on the Nepal government’s 2021 mountain clean-up project headed by the Nepali army, we interviewed Musa Masala member Phula Sherpa, who took part in the project.
The tremendous efforts by the groups listed above and volunteers are paying off. The EBC trekking route is much cleaner now than it was in the preceding several years, even with the huge increase in traffic (excluding pandemic years). Innovation to deal with trash is sprouting up all through the Khumbu. Nepal understands the importance of the financial gain of tourism and is taking more positive steps towards a clean and healthy environment despite the hurdles of funding, a massive twice yearly influx of tourists into a remote, and until this year, roadless area.
Musa Masala was inspired by the work of the late Wongchhu Sherpa, a WMS member and giant in the world of Nepal tourism and mountain sports. Wongchhu Sherpa founded the Everest Summiteers Association, through which he spearheaded the 2012 Mt. Everest Clean Up Project that resulted in over 8 tons of trash being brought off the mountain and surrounding trails. In 2009 he also convened a meeting of the Nepali Parliament at Kala Patthar (5,550m) to highlight climate change and mountain workers rights. Wongchhu Sherpa understood the connection of a clean environment to the influx of tourists and the health of the Nepali people.
We are so grateful to our guests who made for a truly powerful show. And for Thom Pollard, who is such an insightful and gracious host. You can watch our program, Mt Everest: Who Takes the Trash Out? On our YouTube and Facebook pages. It falls upon all of us to trek and climb responsibly, respecting nature and all it offers us.