Honoured among a distinguished group of twenty-two nominees from around the world, the Mount Everest Biogas Project has won the 2017 Mountain Protection Award (MPA) for its visionary solution to the decades-long impact of human waste on Mount Everest, and other remote, high altitude, extreme climate locations.
“Every one of these proposals has the potential to make a difference in preserving and conserving the precious mountaineering so important to us. That we were honoured for this award, this recognition is like a dream come true for the team,” beamed, Garry Porter, Mount Everest Biogas Project co-founder.
Launched in 2010 in affiliation with Engineers Without Borders and Architects Without Borders, the Mount Everest Biogas Project is a volunteer-run non-profit that has designed an innovative, 100% sustainable solution to address a mounting environmental and human health hazard: the annual dumping of 26,000 pounds of untreated human waste generated each year at Everest Base Camp, a number that has ballooned since Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary first ascended in 1953.
Designed to reclaim and preserve the majestic beauty of the world’s tallest mountain, this unique sanitation solution is the first solar-powered human waste biogas system of its kind. By utilizing 100% of the human waste created at Everest Base Camp, the project will bring a wide range of additional environmental, economic and community benefits, including:
Conversion of waste into a renewable natural gas, methane fuel, that will be made available to the local community for cooking and lighting
Lessened risk of drinking water contamination by fecal coli form
Creation of dozens of construction jobs and long-term employment opportunities for residents of the local village for ongoing system maintenance
Curtailed deforestation of limited wood resources in the area
Reduced reliance on wood or yak dung for heating and the resultant health risks.
The Mount Everest Biogas Project is the fifth winner of the annual MPA, joining projects from around the globe, including Ethiopia, Tajikistan, and France. UIAA awards MPA winners a grant for the pursuit of environmental stewardship and education in mountainous regions of the world, with the ultimate goal of rewarding sustainable practices in highly sensitive and remote ecosystems affected by mountain tourism.
The MPA winner was announced at the UIAA General Assembly, which took place in Shiraz, Iran on October 21, 2017. A video featuring Garry Porter was broadcast for the dozens of delegates representing UIAA member associations from six continents.
Stephen Goodwin, UIAA Mountain Protection Commission member, a vice-president of the Alpine Club (UK), and one of the Award assessors, said: “The Mount Everest Biogas Project perfectly meets the aims of our Commission in that it is clearing up the waste of mountaineers and trekkers in an iconic location. There are multiple benefits for the “downstream” Sherpa population (notably less polluted water) and providing the project proves a success, this technology can be applied to other high altitude mountain locations where climbers and/or trekkers have created a waste disposal problem.”
Through academic partnerships with Kathmandu University and Seattle University, the system technology has been designed and tested over the last seven years. “The Mountain Protection Award is a huge morale boost to our volunteer team members because it acknowledges their efforts in addressing a solution to the issue of human waste in mountains. The prestige of an endorsement by the UIAA will provide a major boost to our fundraising effort,” said Porter.
Fundamental to the project’s success is the fundraising effort for the upfront capital costs to install it. “The team has brought this pilot project to construction-ready, with groundbreaking planned for as early as next spring. The next phase is pivotal, and donations, grants or corporate sponsorships are essential to bring this project to life and to sustain the region’s climbing tourism industry for years to come,” Porter added.
Once the pilot phase is successfully implemented, operations can be expanded to other parts of Nepal, increasing capacity for beneficial and sustainable tourism, and allowing more trekkers and climbers without added pollution or risk to water quality in surrounding regions. This technology shows great promise for use in other pristine, heavily trafficked and extreme temperature areas, creating opportunity for an ongoing enterprise.
History of the Problem
With a booming industry of climbing tourism in Nepal, the highest peak on the globe serves as the ultimate challenge and lifelong goal for hundreds of expedition climbers each year. Despite the positive economic impact a thriving Mount Everest attraction can bring to Nepal, the alarming trail of human waste that is left behind with substantial environmental consequences.
The current waste management practice is to pack it out in barrels, carried by yak to the nearest teahouse village of Gorak Shep, where it is dumped into open pits, just above the flow of the Khumbu Glacier that feeds the lower valley. Until 2014, the untreated excrement was dumped into unlined basins, covered by rocks, and left to slowly break down, a process that can take an alarmingly long time due to the high altitude and extremely cold temperatures that make natural decomposition processes impossible.
With no more space available above Gorak Shep to dig pits, waste is now carried to shallow excavated areas below the village. Many of these newer dump sites are located alongside a riverine outlet for an adjacent glacier where, during monsoon season, water flows freely along this bed and into the watershed system, risking impacts to downstream drinking water.
About International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA)
Founded in 1932, the UIAA is the international federation for climbing and mountaineering, representing the interests of over three million climbers and mountaineers from member federations on all six continents. The UIAA promotes the growth and protection of mountaineering and climbing worldwide and has been recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 1995. The three pillars of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) are safety, sport and sustainability. More details about UIAA can be found on the organization’s website, TheUIAA.org.
The UIAA Mountain Protection Award was created in 2013 and is a fundamental part of the federation’s commitment to encouraging and supporting the conservation of natural resources, landscapes and diverse cultures in mountain regions. Celebrating innovation and a desire to make a difference, the annual UIAA MPA has made a tangible difference to mountain lives, communities and the environment. It has enabled people to raise finances to build key infrastructures, conduct vital research and fulfil pending goals; it has provided an international showcase and communication platform for projects to raise awareness and exchange ideas and initiatives. Not only has it supported local communities, it has fostered its own global community.