Since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to climb Mount Everest in 1953, the world’s tallest peak has become a crowded place—and one of the most glaring side effects is an increase in trash and human refuse on the mountain. But a 14-person team of volunteers is in the process of cleaning up garbage along the climbing route, with the goal of collecting 10 metric tons of trash in just 45 days, CNN reports. They’re making great strides in achieving that goal: In just over two weeks, the team has picked up three metric tons of trash.
The initiative is called the Everest Cleaning Campaign, and the volunteers are mainly collecting the waste products left behind by climbing teams, such as empty cans and bottles, plastic, and discarded climbing gear. They’ve also located four bodies on the mountain, a stark reminder of just how dangerous Everest can be, especially as more people are attempting to reach the summit than ever before. The volunteers are slowly working their way up the mountain as the project enters its fourth week.
“Our team has now reached the Everest Base Camp for the cleaning campaign,” says Dandu Raj Ghimire, director general of Nepal’s Tourism Department, according to The Himalayan Times. “All the necessary things including food, water, and shelter have already been arranged there.”
The cleanup effort highlights the increasingly dire impact climbing has had on Everest and its surroundings. Over 1 million people visited the mountain last year, according to Popular Mechanics. And that huge uptick in visitors over the past few decades has degraded the local environment, The Everest Summiteers Association reports. Cleanup projects like this one have been happening regularly since 2011, CNN adds.
In 2014, the Nepalese government created a deposit system for climbers: They can get their money back if they return to the mountain’s base with eight kilograms of trash. Some groups are also working on installing improved waste-management systems on the mountain.
But trash isn’t the only issue: A warming climate has accelerated the melting of the mountain’s snowpack and glaciers, which has exposed more bodies. According to CNN, more than 200 climbers have died on the peak since 1922. Most of them are believed to be buried under ice and snow, so the body count may rise as the volunteers progress toward the summit.