Everest Garbage CARAVAN

Half a century after Edmund Hillary bought the land from Sherpa farmers for $2,600 to build the famous airfield, Lukla became the gateway to Everest. But today the town is also the exit point for garbage to be airlifted out. At Lukla Airport, Funuru Sherpa gets up before dawn to prepare his staff for the Kathmandu flights. 

“At the beginning of the trekking and mountaineering season like now, our flights to Lukla are full, but they fly back mostly empty. So we thought we would support Khumbu’s local cleanup campaign by flying the waste to Kathmandu,” explains Umesh Rai, CEO of Yeti Airlines and its subsidiary, Tara Air.

Except of the occasional biscuit wrapper, mobile top-up cards and yak dung, the trail is surprisingly clean. Indeed, the Everest cleanup campaign is a working template not just for other trekking routes, but for the rest of Nepal as well. Villagers in the Shey-Phoksundo National Park want to start a similar effort.

Tara Air airlifted over 4 tons of trash in 2016 and 11 tons during last year, and the airline hopes to double that in 2018. The trash is collected door-to-door by mother’s groups in villages along the trail, segregated, and the unburnable items are then carried by SPCC porters and zopkios to Lukla to wait for empty flights going back to Kathmandu.

At Lukla Airport, Funuru Sherpa gets up before dawn to prepare his staff for the Kathmandu flights. The Dorniers and Twin Otters start landing on Lukla’s short, sloping runway even before the sun comes up from behind the mountains. The planes keep the engines running while passengers get off and climb on, the luggage is unloaded and loaded, in quick ground handling that looks like a Formula 1 pit stop.

At Kathmandu airport, a team from the Blue Waste To Value recycling company is on hand to collect the garbage and move it to its facility in Balkot. There, workers open the sacks containing wine and ketchup bottles, beer cans, torn tents, oxygen bottles, and even a broken cooking stove. The trash is further segregated and sold to recycling companies.

Besides managing the Everest garbage, Blue Waste also handles trash for major hotels in Kathmandu like Yak & Yeti and Hyatt Regency. Says Nabin Maharjan of Blue Waste: “By treating the garbage that is flown down from the Everest region we don’t just keep the trails clean, we reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills here, clean up environment, and create green jobs.”

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