from the real-dirt-nap dept.
In 2021, a Seattle Washington funeral company is set to open its doors and begin accepting customers in a first of a kind human composting site.
US 'deathcare' company Recompose will be able to turn the deceased into a cubic yard of soil over a period of as little as 30 days, using one-eighth of the energy of cremation and saving as much as a metric ton of carbon dioxide from being produced compared to other forms of burial.
The company will be able to service up to 75 individuals at once.
the process sees bodies placed in reusable vessels covered in woodchips, alfalfa and hay, and sealed away in hexagonal tubes.
There the corpse's temperature is regulated while its surroundings are aerated, allowing naturally occurring bacteria to break down the body over the course of four to seven weeks.
The deceased is then returned to their loved ones as compost, limiting the carbon footprint from cremations and traditional burials while cutting out the embalming fluid chemicals which can leach into the soil and can pollute groundwater.
If desired, the dearly departed dirt can also be donated to
a land soil project to provide a forest on the state's Bell Mountain with additional nutrients, with one person creating 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of soil.
Even as more people opt for interment in simple shrouds or biodegradable caskets, urban cemeteries continue to fill up and cremation is a problematic option for the environmentally conscious, as the process releases greenhouse gases. Now Catrin Einhorn reports at the NYT that architect Katrina Spade has designed a facility for human composting that is attracting interest from environmental advocates and scientists. “Composting makes people think of banana peels and coffee grounds,” says Spade. But “our bodies have nutrients. What if we could grow new life after we’ve died?” The Urban Death Project's plans call for a three-story-high polished concrete composting structure in Seattle called "the core," which would be surrounded by contemplative spaces for visitors. After a ceremony - religious or not - friends and family would help insert the body into the core. Over several weeks a body would turn into about one cubic yard of compost, enough to plant a tree or a patch of flowers.
For most people in the US, there are two options after death: You are buried or you are burned. The costs, both environmental and financial, are significant, but we accept these options because they are all that we know. Conventional burial is anything but natural. Cadavers are preserved with embalming fluid containing formaldehyde, a carcinogen then buried in caskets made of metal or wood, and placed inside a concrete or metal burial vault. The tradition of embalming in the United States is relatively new, beginning in the Civil War when northern families needed to get their dead men home from the South. Spade understands the idea of human composting may be icky to some, but it’s an important part of her concept, the thing that differentiates it from natural burial, which requires extensive land. "I’m sure I’ll continue to get pushback, but I’ll continue to be stubborn because I think it’s really important that we’re part of a larger ecosystem.”
With an upcoming bill, Washington state might be able to start composting dead people. The bill aims to legalize composting human remains and the heat generated by natural microbes should bring the pile up to 55°C for 72 hours, which is hot enough to kill key pathogens.
The method is called “recomposting” and claims to be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than traditional burial or cremation. It involves rapidly decomposing a body and converting the remains into soil. That nutrient-rich material can then be used to grow trees, flowers, and other new life.
The alternative practice hinges on a bill that state senator Jamie Pedersen plans to introduce next month, according to NBC. It would legalize recomposting in Washington where burial and cremation are currently the only acceptable ways to dispose of human remains.
Composting was prominent in the Larry Niven / Jerry Pournelle science fiction novel, Footfall. However, the discussion in Washington was initiated by Katrina Spade in 2013 while working on her master’s in architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Washington has become the first state in the US to legalise human composting.
Under the new law, people there can now choose to have their body turned into soil after their death.
The process is seen as an alternative to cremations and burials, and as a practical option in cities where land for graveyards is scarce.
At the end of the composting, loved ones are given the soil, which they can use in planting flowers, vegetables or trees.
Grow vegetables using human compost from loved one, despair as pests eat all of it.
Compared to cremation, turning your body into mulch keeps a surprising amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
In a few years, people in California will have a new choice for what to do with their loved ones' bodies after death: put them in their garden.
"AB 351 will provide an additional option for California residents that is more environmentally-friendly and gives them another choice for burial," Assembly member Cristina Garcia, who sponsored the bill, said in a release. "With climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposition that won't contribute emissions into our atmosphere."
Human beings cause more than enough trouble while we're alive, but the practices we've developed to handle our bodies after death are also pretty bad for the environment. Burying a dead body takes about three gallons of embalming liquid per corpse—stuff like formaldehyde, methanol, and ethanol—and about 5.3 million gallons total gets buried with bodies each year. Meanwhile, cremation creates more than 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of carbon dioxide from the burning process of just one body, and the burning itself uses up the energy equivalent of two tanks of gasoline. In the U.S., cremation creates roughly 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.
It's a no-brainer, then, to think of greener alternatives. The most common process for human composting—and the one laid out in the new California law—is called natural organic reduction, which involves leaving the body in a container with some wood chips and other organic matter for about a month to let bacteria do its work. The resulting mulch (yep, it's human body mulch) is then allowed to cure for a few more weeks before being turned over to the family. Each body can produce about a cubic yard of soil, or around one pickup truckbeds' worth. According to Garcia's release, this process will save about a metric ton of CO2 per body.