Nepal's government has crafted a plan to keep Mount Everest from turning into a trash-filled peak by cleaning it up in five short years. But with Nepal's government corruption, those plans might be a bit optimistic.
Everest climbers will now be required by law to bring an extra 8 kilograms (about 17.6 pounds) of trash down to Base Camp from their hike, The Guardian reports. The rule will apply to any traveler who ascends beyond Base Camp, and violators will allegedly face some sort of as-yet-unnamed punishment, according to a Nepalese tourism official. The plan was conceived to address the estimated 50 tons of trash that have accumulated on the peak over the past 60 years. All the refuse left behind by travelers doesn't decompose because of the cold temperatures, leaving discarded oxygen tanks, tents, and human waste everywhere on the trail. Nepalese leaders hope descenders will clear nearly eight tons of trash this year with this program.
That eight-ton number might actually be selling it short, if all goes to plan. 658 people summited Everest in 2013, largely during the few periods in May when the weather was clear enough to climb the mountain. Those 658 success stories represent 56 percent of attempted summits, National Geographic calculated in 2012. That comes to an estimated 1,175 total people attempting to summit each year, holding all else constant. If each person took the minimum of 17.6 pounds back, that would get rid of more than 20,000 total pounds of trash, or just over 10 tons. At that rate, those 50 tons of trash could be gone in five years. That optimistic look is actually better than Nepal's estimation. And that number could go even higher as more and more people flock to guided Everest climbs.
However, enforcement of that rule will be especially tough for Nepal, where government corruption is rife and Everest tourism generates big bucks. Daredevil travelers pay tens of thousands of dollars for permits to hike Mount Everest; Nepal's government made $3 million in permit fees in 2012, according to National Geographic. Nepal is unlikely to take actions that stop the money from flowing into its coffers.
In addition, the trash-recovery law could just make government corruption or bribes more likely. “You have to remember, Nepal is almost a failed state,” Everest guide Guy Cotter told National Geographic. Dave Hahn, a guide with 14 Everest summits, similarly expects any solutions to come from across the guiding companies, and not the government.
The Nepalese government at least acknowledges its problems with enforcement in the past. "Our earlier efforts have not been very effective," tourism ministry official Madhusudan Burlakoti said to The Guardian. "This time, if climbers don't bring back garbage, we will take legal action and penalise them." However unlikely, if they do indeed thoroughly follow through, the mountain could be clean in less than a decade.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.