November 17, 2008

Potable Toilets For An Eco-Friendly Everest

Dawa Steven Sherpa, a young climber from Nepal, is hoping to promote eco-friendly climbing on Mt. Everest by deploying toilets fashioned from a plastic bucket. 

The U.S.-designed bucket, which weighs 2.4 pounds and stands 11 inches tall, has an opening that is eight inches in diameter.  To construct the toilet, Sherpa and his team used a plastic bucket and a gas-impervious bag to safely contain and neutralize human waste and trap odor.

"I want to promote anything that manages human waste on the mountain," Sherpa, 25, told Reuters. 

"It is portable and very secure," said Sherpa, who led an eco-Everest expedition in May to collect trash left behind by previous climbers.

Hundreds of climbers attempt to climb the 29,035-foot mountain every year, many of whom simply squat in the open or hunch behind rocks due to Everest's lack of proper toilet facilities.

During the month long eco-Everest expedition, Sherpa and his team retrieved 2,100 pounds of kitchen waste, tents, cans, gas canisters and even parts of an Italian helicopter that crashed 35 years ago as well as remains of a British climber who died in 1972.  The 18-member team also removed the 65 kg of human waste it produced during the trip, which it then turned over to a local environmental group at Everest's base camp for management.

"To date, no other container designed for human waste exists in this size, weight or strength," Sherpa said.

Tourism, including mountain climbing, accounts for roughly 4 percent of Nepal's gross domestic product and represents a key source of income for the impoverished nation.

Roughly 3,000 people have climbed Mount Everest since New Zealand's Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa first scaled the world's tallest peak in 1953.   But there are now growing concerns about the environmental impact of such a large number of climbers.

"There is a heightened need for environmentally friendly practices in climbing, not only to have a neutral impact on the mountains but a positive impact," Sherpa said.