The poop on Everest – and how to clean it up

I was reading a story from Vermont about a company that is reinventing PortaPotties to produce organic material for farmers, when it turned into a gateway into learning about the huge problems of human waste on Mount Everest and North American national parks.

For a few decades after the 1953 British ascent, there weren’t enough climbers to make the human waste problem a huge one. But then, as climbing Everest began to look like the Chilkoot Trail during the Yukon gold rush, the problem grew…and grew. These days, porters and yaks have to haul down about 26,000 pounds of human waste, in plastic lined blue pails, to a flat glaciated area at about 17,000 feet. That’s the weight of two fully-grown elephants.

In a way, it is a problem much bigger than Everest. Yet solutions for remote places also offer hope for improved sanitation in parts of the world that are not so remote, high and cold. Many entrepreneurs point out that solid human waste can be a source of energy and an agricultural supplement, if properly treated, as well as a source of resources we otherwise dig into the ground to obtain.

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