The Sagarmatha Next Centre is collecting litter and trash from around the slopes of Mt. Everest (8,848 m/29,032 ft) and repurposing the refuse as art. The project center, named after the traditional Sanskrit name for Everest, Sagarmatha, or “Peak of Heaven,” sits at Namche Bazar around 3,780 m (12,402 ft), just off the main trail to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.
As the nonprofit’s project proposal acknowledges, mountaineers and trekkers are both a blessing and a curse for Nepalese mountain communities. International tourists have long fostered positive economic development in the region, but simultaneously contribute to increasing environmental degradation and overcrowding on the peak and its surrounding environs. Approximately 60,000+ international tourists visit the Khumbu Valley annually, and that number is only growing.
From used oxygen canisters to human refuse, broken ladders to food wrappers, the trash situation on Everest has rapidly spiraled out of control of late. Around 790 kg (1,700 lbs) of trash is left each season, and only 40% of that waste is organic, and thus compostable. The remainder is plastic, metal, and glass, which is extremely difficult to sustainably dispose of, particularly in a region with little to no road access.
The repurposed-trash artwork at Sagarmatha Next will both be put on display to raise awareness and sold as souvenirs, with proceeds sent to local conservation groups. By turning tourists’ waste into art, “Our idea is to include the tourists as part of the solution,” says the project proposal. They also hope to offer a model which communities in mountain areas around the developing world can replicate.
The Centre will offer myriad attractions, including film screenings, digital displays, VR presentations, a café, and a shop, in addition to housing for visiting artists interested in collaboration. The Sagarmatha project also has a second arm dedicated to directly offering “environmental solutions for waste management,” helping local organizations find better ways to manage their trash each season.
The center is set for a soft opening, limited to locals only, this spring, with a broader opening to follow pending coronavirus restrictions.