STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Solving Everest's mounting poop problem

When climbing enthusiasts take a stab at the ...

Posted: Aug 6, 2018 2:03 PM
Updated: Aug 6, 2018 2:03 PM

When climbing enthusiasts take a stab at the highest mountain in the world, thinking about their bodily waste is probably low on their list of priorities.

This season, porters working on Everest schlepped 28,000 pounds of human waste — the equivalent weight of two fully-grown elephants -- from base camp down to a nearby dumping site, according to the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), a local NGO tasked with cleaning up Everest.

Asia

Biofuels

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Continents and regions

Energy and utilities

Environment and natural resources

Environmentalism

Himalayas

Mount Everest

Mountains (by name)

Nepal

Physical locations

Pollution

Renewable energy

South Asia

At Gorak Shep, a frozen lakebed 17,000 feet above sea level, waste matter is dumped in open pits where it shrivels and dehydrates. But there is a risk that it will leak into a river and contaminate the water supply system, explains Garry Porter, a retired mountaineer and engineer from Washington state.

"It's unsightly and unsanitary, it's a health issue and an environmental nightmare," Porter tells CNN.

"I experienced the thrill and grandeur of Mount Everest, but I also saw what happens when we, the Western world, leave, as if our waste doesn't stink."

But Porter doesn't fault climbers, as he says their main preoccupation is summiting and returning home in one piece.

Nor are Nepalese authorities to blame, says Porter, as there are no waste treatment plants nearby.

Yangji Doma, of the SPCC, agrees that the current human waste management system is problematic.

"We make sure that it's not dumped on the glacier itself," she tells CNN. "But the main problem is ... it's very cold and it doesn't naturally degrade, we understand that. It's managed but it's not sustainably managed."

Read: Nepal fast facts

So Porter, along with fellow climber Dan Mazur, established the Mount Everest Biogas Project almost eight years ago to try get rid of this "environmental hazard."

Over the years they have been toying with the idea of installing a biogas digester at Gorak Shep to convert human waste into methane gas.

While biogas digesters are used around the world, and fairly easy to make, they are difficult to operate at altitude in sub-zero temperatures.

This is because the process requires bacteria to feed on organic waste, and these living microorganisms need to be kept warm, explains Porter.

The Mount Everest Biogas Project plans to use a solar array panel to transmit heat into the digester. There will also be a battery array to store energy at night when the sun sets.

Read: The dangers of oxygen deprivation on Everest

The end products will be methane gas, which can be used for cooking or lighting, and effluent that can be used as fertilizer for crops.

"It takes a nasty product and makes two products that can be used by the Nepali people," explains Porter.

However, Porter says climbers often take antibiotics, and he was initially concerned that antibiotics in the poop might impact the microbes' ability to break down the waste.

But he says mini digesters at Kathmandu University successfully converted human waste from base camp to methane gas.

The team still needs to test whether the effluent will be free of hazardous microorganisms and therefore safe to use as fertilizer. Porter says they will begin testing the effluent this year and if it is dangerous, the plan is to filter out contaminants in an underground septic system.

Read: Rebuilding a Nepali village, one block at a time

The Mount Everest Biogas Project has a signed agreement with the SPCC and is ready to break ground once they have raised the necessary funds.

Porter estimates that the first digester will cost around $500,000, mostly because of the transportation cost to lug the materials up to Gorak Shep.

Thereafter the cost will come down and Porter plans to "hand the keys" to the SPCC.

Doma hopes the project will be a success: "It is a very innovative solution to address human waste in the long run, because right now the way we do it is not that good. It is not sustainable."

For Porter, it is about paying off a debt to the Nepalese people.

"I was part of the problem, so hopefully now I can be part of the solution," he says.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 75862

Reported Deaths: 3069
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16088730
Lake7688278
Elkhart492685
Allen4002163
St. Joseph357883
Hamilton2829104
Vanderburgh202213
Hendricks1927108
Cass18029
Johnson1789119
Porter135539
Clark128749
Tippecanoe123811
Madison100665
LaPorte93130
Howard91365
Kosciusko86812
Bartholomew81747
Floyd80948
Marshall79323
Monroe76631
Delaware74552
Dubois70812
Vigo69911
Noble68829
Boone68746
Hancock68339
Jackson5965
Warrick58830
Shelby56527
LaGrange56310
Grant52930
Dearborn51228
Morgan49334
Clinton4444
Henry40620
Wayne38510
White37611
Montgomery35921
Lawrence35227
Harrison34823
Decatur34132
Putnam3128
Daviess27720
Miami2772
Scott27210
Jasper2552
Greene25434
Franklin24615
DeKalb2384
Gibson2314
Jennings22712
Steuben2133
Ripley2138
Carroll1962
Fayette1947
Perry18713
Posey1790
Starke1787
Wells1742
Orange17424
Fulton1722
Wabash1703
Jefferson1672
Knox1610
Whitley1556
Tipton14312
Washington1421
Sullivan1381
Spencer1373
Clay1245
Huntington1243
Randolph1244
Newton12010
Adams1092
Owen991
Jay920
Rush854
Pulaski811
Fountain742
Brown741
Blackford652
Ohio656
Benton640
Pike590
Vermillion580
Switzerland530
Parke511
Martin480
Crawford450
Union410
Warren241
Unassigned0206

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 102826

Reported Deaths: 3708
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin18697529
Cuyahoga13734505
Hamilton9766257
Lucas5448326
Montgomery443896
Summit3614223
Butler297663
Marion293545
Mahoning2595255
Pickaway239142
Stark1884140
Warren182139
Lorain181377
Columbiana167160
Trumbull1549108
Fairfield141632
Delaware134419
Licking131951
Clark117815
Lake113141
Wood106858
Clermont95311
Medina94535
Miami85839
Tuscarawas79314
Portage77163
Allen76946
Greene71812
Mercer63113
Belmont62326
Richland61412
Erie59728
Ashtabula57646
Geauga55944
Wayne54558
Ross4944
Darke40629
Huron4045
Madison40110
Ottawa39626
Sandusky39017
Hancock3893
Athens3602
Holmes3286
Lawrence3000
Auglaize2636
Union2601
Muskingum2431
Scioto2421
Jefferson2373
Seneca2283
Knox2127
Putnam21117
Shelby2104
Washington20922
Preble2072
Coshocton1967
Champaign1812
Morrow1762
Crawford1755
Hardin17012
Clinton1696
Highland1661
Logan1602
Ashland1543
Fulton1531
Wyandot1509
Defiance1504
Brown1462
Perry1403
Williams1363
Henry1222
Fayette1210
Guernsey1197
Hocking1189
Carroll1135
Monroe9418
Pike790
Jackson760
Van Wert732
Paulding700
Gallia701
Adams612
Meigs540
Vinton322
Morgan300
Harrison261
Noble160
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 72°
Angola
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 68°
Huntington
Few Clouds
70° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 70°
Decatur
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 68°
Van Wert
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 68°
Mostly Sunny Thursday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events