Trash to treasure: Turning Mt. Everest waste into art

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A group of 15 artists in Nepal turn trash collected from Mount Everest into art

The project aims to raise awareness about pollution at Everest

1.5 tons of garbage have been turned into 74 pieces of artwork

The pieces are on sale, priced from $17 to $2,400

Since Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, first conquered Mount Everest in 1953, thousands of trekkers have tried to follow their footsteps.

According to the Nepalese Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, more than 3,500 have successfully climbed the 8,848-meter (29,029-foot) mountain, the world’s highest. More than a tenth of that number scaled the summit last year alone.

But with the mountaineers’ lofty dreams come a price: a trail of trash that now threatens the peak’s environment.

A group of 15 artists in Nepal are turning that trash into art. Under a project called “Mt. Everest 8848 Art Project I” created last year, they have collected 1.5 tons of garbage brought down by climbers from the mountain, including remains of a helicopter that had crashed into the slopes during the 1970s.

“With this collaboration we aimed to raise awareness about pollution at Everest,” explained Kripa Rana Shahi, director of Da Mind Tree, the organization that initiated the project.

Working tediously for a month, the artists transformed oxygen cylinders, cans, glass bottles and discarded trekking tools into 74 pieces of art and held their first of many exhibitions for interested buyers in November 2012.

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“Many of the artworks reflect mountain life and mountaineering experiences,” says artist Sushma Shakya. “It was interesting what we came up with, and how this trash could turn into something beautiful.”

“The visitors are amazed by the artwork, and we’ve received encouraging feedback. We hope our creations will help inspire actions against pollution at the Everest,” Nara Bahadur BK, another artist, said.

The exhibitions have attracted more than 3,800 visitors, with the pieces priced from $17 to $2,400.

Nineteen pieces have been sold so far, and part of the proceeds will be given to Everest Summiteers Association, which has collaborated with the project. The association was the first to initiate a cleanup trip to Mt. Everest in 2005 and has continued its efforts to make the mountain pollution free.

“Each expedition to Everest is required to take a garbage deposit and bring their waste back,” Diwas Pokhrel, the group’s general secretary, said. “But this system has not been strictly implemented.”

In last two years, the association has collected over 10 tons of garbage from the Everest, but it estimates that another 10 tons are still littering the slopes.

According to the association, biodegradable garbage is separated from the collection and turned into compost at Namche Bazaar, the major stop point before the base camp. But much of the garbage comprises non-degradable items such as oxygen cylinders, tin cans, and plastic and glass bottles. These are airlifted to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

Turning trash into art is one way of managing waste. Da Mind Tree says it will continue working on similar projects. “We hope our creative works of art will inspire and encourage people to keep the mountains clean,” Shahi said.

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