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A Nepalese sherpa collects garbage left by climbers at an altitude of 8,000 metres during a Mount Everest clean-up expedition. A local group plans to create art out of some of the waste left at the world’s highest peak. Photo: AFP

Nepal to transform Mount Everest trash into art to raise environmental awareness

  • Mount Everest has been described as the world’s highest garbage dump, with climbers discarding oxygen bottles, ropes and other waste
  • The Sagarmatha Next Centre aims to upcycle this into art to generate income for locals and change perceptions about garbage and how to manage it
Trash collected from Mount Everest is set to be transformed into art and displayed in a nearby gallery in Nepal, to highlight the need to save the world’s tallest mountain from turning into a dumping site.

Used oxygen bottles, torn tents, ropes, broken ladders, cans and plastic wrappers discarded by climbers and trekkers litter the 8,848.86 metre (29,032 feet) peak and the surrounding areas.

Tommy Gustafsson, project director and a co-founder of the Sagarmatha Next Centre – a visitors’ information centre and waste upcycling facility – said foreign and local artists will be engaged in creating artwork from waste materials and train locals to turn trash into treasures.

“We want to showcase how you can transform solid waste to precious pieces of art … and generate employment and income,” Gustafsson said. “We hope to change the people’s perceptions about the garbage and manage it.”

The centre is located at an altitude of 3,780 metres at Syangboche on the main trail to Everest base camp, two days’ walk from Lukla, the gateway to the mountain.

It is due for “soft opening” to locals in the spring as the number of visitors could be limited this year due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions, Gustafsson said.

Products and artwork will be displayed to raise environmental awareness, or sold as souvenirs with the proceeds going to conservation of the region, he said.

Trash brought down from the mountain or collected from households and tea houses along the trail is handled and segregated by a local environmental group, the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, but the task in a remote region that has no roads is a huge challenge.

Garbage is dumped or burned in open pits, causing air and water pollution as well as contamination of soil.

The geopolitical significance of Everest’s change in height

Phinjo Sherpa, of the Eco Himal group involved in the scheme, said under a “carry me back” initiative, each returning tourist and guide will be requested to take a bag containing 1kg (2.2 pounds) of garbage back to Lukla airport, from where the trash will be airlifted to Kathmandu.

In 2019, more than 60,000 trekkers, climbers and guides visited the area.

“We can manage a huge amount of garbage if we involve the visitors,” Sherpa said.

Nepali climbers pose for photographs at Namche Bazaar after collecting waste from Mount Everest in 2019. Photo: AFP

Everest was first climbed by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

According to the Himalayan Data base, nearly 4,000 people have since made 6,553 ascents from the Nepali side of the mountain, which can also be climbed from the Tibetan side in China.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Everest trash will become art to show garbage blight