Trash to treasure: Everest garbage given new lease of life

KATHMANDU: A group of tourists sip water at a five-star hotel in Kathmandu, unaware that the green glasses in their hands were once bottles discarded on Mount Everest – left by climbers eager to make their ascent.

In homes across the Nepali capital upcycled items, from pots to lamps, crafted from Everest waste products are slowly making their way as authorities and businesses look for fresh ways to tackle the damage caused by decades of commercial mountaineering.

Tonnes of trash — including empty cans and gas canisters, bottles, plastic and discarded climbing gear — litter the mountain, which has been dubbed the “highest dumpster in the world”.

“Waste doesn’t need to be wasted,” Nabin Bikash Maharjan of local recycling organisation Blue Waste to Value (BW2V told AFP.

“We received a mix of materials from Everest — aluminium, glass, plastic, iron — much of which could be recycled,” he explained, adding: “We need to up-cycle and add value to them.”

After heavy criticism for the condition of one of its greatest natural resources, Nepal’s government and mountaineering groups this year organised a six-week clean-up.

Scaling almost 8,000 metres (26,300 feet from base camp to the closest camp to the summit, a 14-strong team retrieved more than 10 tonnes of trash that was flown or driven to recycling centres in Kathmandu.

Workers there manually sorted the materials — each type following a different path to rebirth: Iron was sent to rod manufacturing firms, shredded aluminium cans to utensil makers, and discarded bottles re-fashioned into household items.

“Waste is a taboo in our society, considered as dirt,” mused Ujen Wangmo Lepcha of Moware Designs, which upcycles rubbish into light fixtures and glasses.

“When they see these kind of products they are like ‘wow’, these things can be made and it is possible,” she explained.

Their products are now used in upmarket hotels, restaurants, and homes around the capital, and Lepcha says there is growing consumer interest in goods made from salvaged Everest scraps.

Aanchal Malla of Hotel Yak & Yeti, a luxury five-star hotel in Kathmandu, said ong for the upcycled goods was in-line with the hotel’s move towards sustainable and environmentally friendly products.

“It is not just better for us and the environment but then it goes way bigger than that…it is the encouragement of everyone who is trying to move into that direction of making the globe into a better place, reducing all the waste,” Malla said.

A new waste facility — called Sagarmatha Next after the Nepali name for Everest — is also being completed in Syangboche at an altitude of nearly 3,800 metres (12,400 feet, passed by trekkers and mountaineers on the way to the base camp.

It will process garbage, and collaborate with artists and innovators to make new products in a bid to tap into this burgeoning market for Everest ‘products’.