Drones tackle Everest’s waste crisis

Everest: Human waste problem

Image of Mount Everest base camp. Credit: Slepitssskaya/Shutterstock.com

Could technology finally solve Everest’s rubbish dilemma? In a ground-breaking move, Nepal has enlisted drones to clear waste from its towering peaks.

The initiative kicked off on April 11, 2024, with drones being deployed to collect waste left behind from the most inaccessible parts of Everest.

This forms part of a wider clean-up operation targeting the Himalayan range’s major mountains, aiming to remove 10 tonnes of waste. The cleaning campaign covers three key summits: Everest (8,848 meters), Lhotse (8,516 meters), and Nuptse (7,861 meters).

Automating waste removal

Traditionally, the task of waste collection on Everest was undertaken by Sherpas and Nepalese army soldiers, a role that is fraught with danger due to treacherous ice waterfalls and heavy loads of rubbish.

Now, drones manufactured by the Chinese firm Da-Jiang Innovations are taking over. These drones can ascend to heights of up to 6,500 metres and carry loads weighing up to 30 kilograms.

This pilot project marks the first use of drones for cleaning the highest peak on Earth, with plans to fully implement the technology by 2025 if successful.

High-altitude clean-up

Approximately 1,500 climbers annually leave behind substantial debris, including food scraps and empty oxygen cylinders.

The growing problem of waste, particularly human excrement, has marred the scenic beauty and environmental sanctity of the mountains.

Since 2014, the Nepalese government has ordered that each climber descends with at least eight kilos of rubbish, under threat of forfeiting a $4,000 deposit.

In a further push for environmental stewardship, 2024 also saw the introduction of mandatory tracking chips for climbers and biodegradable bags for human waste.

Revolutionising mountain conservation

As this innovative approach is successful, the impact on Everest’s ecosystem and the safety of its clean-up crews could be significant.

The use of drones not only reduces human risk but also promises to be a more efficient method of preserving the region’s natural beauty for future generations.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.