Different academic and scientific studies point out the problems derived from more than 40 years of commercial expeditions and trekkings to the area of the Sagarmatha National Park, where Mount Everest is located.
The rising number of visitors, framed with the necessity of Nepal for international tourism, has put in check their delicate ecosystem. Proof of this is that, in 1998, 20.014 visitors were registered at Sagarmatha National Park, while in 2018 they were 58.018 -53,692 in 2019 and 4,819 in 2020- which means the area’s tourism has tripled in 20 years, according to the Annual report of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC).
Inside the Sagarmatha National Park, in the Khumbu area, where Everest is located, 790 kilos of waste were counted every day during the trekking seasons of 2018, which totaled 200.000 kilos of residue, according to Sagarmatha Next. The composition of the residues was 40% organic, 22% paper, 14% plastic, 8% PET bottles, 5% metal, 5% glass, 4% textile, and 2% aluminum. Organic residue is converted to compost while the authorities work on recycling the rest.
Situation in Sagarmatha National Park in 2019, before the Covid-pandemic:
visitors (tourists, guides, staff) per year
tonnes of waste generated per year
kilos of waste in high season per day*
The composition of the waste collected by SPCC in Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Amadablam and other mountains in 2017-2018 (last data available):
Burnable garbage (kg)
Human waste (kg)
Kitchen waste (kg)
EPI gas (pcs)
Glass bottle (kg)
Both the SPCC and the Nepal Mountaineering Association, two important voices in Nepal, and the IUNC, the world’s largest environmental organisation, agree that the notable increase in visitation to the Mount Everest area in recent years has brought along significant waste management complications.
Everest is a highly fragile icon of our planet, and in 2014, it was riddled with roughly 50 tonnes of rubbish, according to estimates made public that year by the Nepalese Government.
The Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), the NGO designated by the government to take charge of waste monitoring and environmental management at the Sagarmatha National Park (the Everest region), claimed in its annual report that it had removed some 7.5 tonnes of garbage from expeditions in the Khumbu area between 2019 and 2020. There were 60 tonnes in 2017-2018, plus 165 tonnes of waste from Namche, Lukla, and the surrounding areas. From 2018-2019, there were 251 tonnes of it.
But each year, new expeditions and trekking groups arrive in the Everest area causing the situation to perpetuate, despite seasonal waste removal and recycling campaigns with locally-based companies. “The enormous increase of visitors to the Everest region during the last quarter century has tremendously supported the local economy. Nevertheless, the pressure exerted from tourism has also resulted in increased environmental degradation from waste. With an increase in the number of visitors, littering of trash along trekking trails has become prominent”, the SPCC‘s latest report notes.
The kinds of garbage that are most frequently found in the mountains are as follows, classified by the SPCC:
- Disposable (burnable and biodegradable): paper, cardboard, packaging, clothes, food scraps, etc.
- Non-disposable: cans, bottles, EPI gas canisters, oxygen tanks, batteries, etc.
The IUNC World Heritage, as the international body that analyses the status of World Heritage sites, argued in its 2020 report that, in 2018, there were 35,000 kilos of waste on the mountain, and it was considered “critical” to highlight that, between 2014 and 2016, there was an average annual visitor level of 30,000 people to the region, while there were 57,000 between 2018 and 2019. This means there was an almost 100% increase in just three years, “This level of visitation increase exerts enormous strains on every aspect of visitor management, particularly waste management in remote areas”, IUNC World Heritage said.
In the summer of 2022, the Nepalese Army, in collaboration with government institutions, carried out a Mountain Clean-up campaign and remove a total of 33,877 kilos of garbage from the slopes of Everest, Lhotse, Manaslu, and Kangchenjunga, where they also recovered two bodies.
The actual amount of waste and rubbish on Mount Everest remains uncertain due to a lack of information
Regenerative tourism in Mount Everest
In recent years, more work has been done to solve and promote greater awareness of global problems such as climate change, mass tourism, the human impact on ecosystems, pollution, and waste and resource management. This has made it possible to reach international agreements such as the 2030 Agenda and the European Green Pact.
Globalisation, economic and social crises, and the fact that we live in changing and uncertain times all lead to the proliferation of short-term benefits that not only do not solve our problems, but also have a negative impact on our economic and social systems. This has been the case with countless environmental catastrophes, including the unsatisfactory management of natural spaces. While we are not all guilty at an individual level, neither are we entirely innocent.
At The NeverRest Project, we know that the solution is not to simply cancel all tourism; it involves making it more of a conscious ordeal, and balancing tourism with the benefit of local populations and their economy. We believe that the immediate future will involve regenerative tourism based on sustainability, zero environmental and energetic impact from the visitor, and not degrading the local scenery and coexistence, but rather promoting it. Ultimately, out-of-control tourism not only leads to the destruction of the destination and its environment, but it also makes to replace it with another destination.