WASTE CONTROL ON MT. EVEREST
For years, Mt. Everest was littered with waste—discarded food and wrappers, empty oxygen bottles, camping gear, and human waste. In an effort to clean up this famous landmark, the Nepalese government enacted regulations that require climbing parties to remove all their garbage and human waste from the mountain. From the SPCC (Sugafmatha Pollution Control Committee) Web site:“It is required that every expedition group that is climbing a major mountain in the Everest Region to check in with the SPC office. Each group has to put a security deposit down and account for all the equipment and materials they will be taking with them to the perspective Base Camp. Upon leaving the area, each expedition is required to check in with SPCC to ensure that the material that they took up with them will be returned. If not, then they will lose a portion of, or the entire security deposit. “
This system has been very successful in improving the cleanliness of the base camps.
The primary thrust of the park regulations has been the removal and disposal of human trash but little effort has been expended on how to deal with the human waste (feces) from the base camps. Currently, it is hauled off the base camps and dumped into open pits at lower elevation, specifically at Gorak Shep. This dumping of raw sewage into unlined pits is a health risk, due to the potential contamination of water supplies.
The Gorak Shep drinking water supply system involves daily hikes to a nearby glacier and removing pieces of ice or drawing water from small springs, which are in the vicinity of where the human waste from the base camps is dumped. These springs were tested in the Spring of 2012 by Dr. Jon Kedrowski under a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study water quality in the vicinity of Mt Everest. Of the two water resource sites tested, one was marginally safe for human consumption according to World Health standards and one was 4 times higher than the allowable limit. Water sampling directly in the human waste disposal site is planned to be conducted in the spring of 2013.
LOCATION AND ENVIRONMENT
The residents of Gorak Shep and the surrounding villages are keenly aware of these challenges. They maintain a profitable tourism business which serves the visiting climbers and trekkers. It is their goal to keep the business in operation and maintain their very precious and rare natural resources.
The Mt. Everest Biogas team was privileged to host Mingma Tenjing Sherpa in August 2012 and hear his expression of personal support for what the team is attempting to do, as well as his personal interest in representing the people of Gorak Shep in this important project. Mingma was born and raised in Namche Bazar, Nepal, the capital of the Sherpa people and the main village in the Khumbu Valley where Everest is located. Mingma has been intimately involved with the Mt. Everest biogas project for 3 years and been an invaluable resource in a variety of planning and design activities.
More on Mingma Sherpa and his community in this presentation.
BIOGAS DIGESTER FUNCTIONS AND THE GORAK SHEP LOCATION
Operation of a biogas digester in Gorak Shep must overcome several issues, such as a temperature which prevents natural decomposition to take place, and a remote location that prevents the use of traditional solutions.
Gorak Shep (elevation 5,180 meters) is a very remote community on the trail to Mt. Everest base camp. It is reached only by a 5-6 day strenuous hike from the closest village at lower elevation. All supplies, food, and fuel must be carried on yaks or porters. There are no electrical, sanitation and water supply systems. Human waste carried down from Everest, Pomori, Lhotse, and Nupste base camps is dumped into open pits at Gorak Shep which are slowly leaching into its water supply. Our challenge is to build an anaerobic (zero oxygen) biogas digester that functions at Gorak Shep using the human waste from the base camps.
The ground temperature on Gorak Shep is too cold for decomposition to take place. Organic materials (like human waste) normally decompose from naturally occurring bacteria and oxygen (aerobic decomposition). These bacteria have a temperature range for optimal function; outside of this range they are unsuitable for the biogas digester design.For the bacteria responsible for decomposition, 10 degrees C becomes too cold for them to perform most of the decomposition, and below 0 degrees C they stop functioning. Temperatures at Gorak Shep are far lower than those of most if not all other locations using a biogas digester plant.