Supply Chain of The World’s Highest Garbage
We all go on holidays and each one of us has a unique preference on where to spend the time. Some of us might like the warm Mediterranean, some might like the mountains in Switzerland. Being from a tourism dependent third world economy, I have a different perspective to holidays spent high up in the snowy Himalayas. The Himalayas are by nature rugged and difficult to traverse. Hills and plains can be easily be traversed by air, land and in some cases even water. The mighty Himalayas essentially bring out the raw traverse method- on foot. This might seem obvious but the consequences run deeper than that.
Wealthy tourists with pampered lifestyles are the ones interested in climbing a peak just for the sake of climbing. Their needs are extensive even in that hostile environment- high tech climbing gear, lots of canned and packed food, oxygen cylinders, toiletries and so on. Looking to the supply chain side of this, except for few items on the back packs, none of the goods are locally made. Here’s what over six decades of tourism translate into when viewed in numbers for the mighty Everest:
- About 4000 climbers have scaled Summit to date
- More than 50 tonness of solid waste has been left to date
- Lodges in the Khumbu area generate about 500 kgs of waste per season per lodge
- More than 21.6 Ton of fecal matter has been deposited to date (excluding porters and guides and based on an average stay of 45 days). Much of this does not decompose due to extreme cold
The logistics of removing this waste are economically and technically burdensome, especially when human backs, beasts of burden and ultimately air travel is required to relieve the Everest region of this waste. During last year’s cleaning campaign, approximately 0.5 Euros per kg waste was paid to the local airlines to transport the waste from Lukla. The cost of bringing the waste from high up to Lukla is even higher. More than 226k Euros, 80,000 porters and a lot of local people were required to bring about 8 tons of waste from Everest to Kathmandu.
It is true that as tourists it is impossible to eliminate all aspects of travel-waste. Nevertheless, being representative of the world that we live in when we travel, we should try to minimize unregulated disposal. We might do so by aligning to local tastes while going to such places. Afterall, why should we want an Illy’s espresso instead of the local tea / coffee in the morning in the Himalayas while the whole idea of holiday is to get away from the current lifestyle?
I suggest that should try implementing a low cost, sustainable and eco-friendly ways of dealing with our human waste in place like Everest. Enviroloo provides a simple, low cost solution for these purposes and has been popular in Africa and North America. If we can pay a $10k insurance fee to travel to the Everest Base Camp and still think it is reasonable, I think we can add another $10k to install such facilities at strategic places like the Base Camp, where tourists still depend on pit hole latrines in the snow.
In theory, such a gesture ought to be extended by the government of the respective countries, yet when we know they have these issues on low priority, we might ourselves keep it on our own priority list. After all, this is waste generated by tourists as opposed to waste generated by local people!