Providing adequate sanitation for climbers on Mount Everest is a huge problem


Nepal is facing an interesting dilemma: What to do about the rising volume of human waste left behind by the hundreds of people who attempt to climb Mount Everest every year.

The topic has garnered a lot of headlines lately. It’s a growing problem, not to mention a health hazard.

According to a recent TIME.com article, roughly 700 climbers and guides are on Everest for two months during the brief climbing season, which usually runs March through May. More than 4,000 people have made the climb since Sir Edmund Hillary first summited the world’s highest peak in 1953.

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Even at the base camps, there are no restrooms and there are certainly none at the summit. The base camps do, however, provide storage for waste, which is then carried down the mountain and disposed.

Higher up the mountain, most climbers simply dig holes in the snow and leave their waste behind. That happens around the camps as well, and waste is piling up. According to the Nepal Mountaineering Association website, concentrations of waste will not decompose. Groups will make temporary latrines, hence the buildup of waste. Even when covered by snow, waste makes its way out into the open when surface snow melts or gets shifted by glaciers. 

Garbage has been an issue on Everest as well. It’s become such a problem that climbers are now required to bring at least 18 pounds of trash back down the mountain when they leave, that being the estimated amount each climber was leaving behind. If trash is not carried out, climbers face fines or even a ban from making the climb again.

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The garbage is easier to monitor. The human waste issue has yet to be addressed. Some climbers have carried disposable toilet bags to use in higher camps, which will help prevent additional waste from piling up on the mountain but doesn’t contribute to the cleanup of what’s already present. 

It’d be tough to get a vacuum truck up Mount Everest, so maybe portable restrooms aren’t the answer. But as sanitation professionals, how would you handle this situation? Post a comment below. 

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