What if, instead of being cremated or buried, your dead body was turned into compost to feed plants and trees? The Urban Death Project explores a strange new trend in alternative burial practices….
If you’ve ever gotten the heebie-jeebies thinking about being confined to a coffin and buried 6 feet down, perhaps this new natural burial method may be more to your liking – especially if you’re a sustainable gardener!
Wouldn’t it be nice to think of your body living on in a beautiful apple tree, or a lovely little blueberry patch, instead of simply rotting away in a box somewhere?
As project founder, Katrina Spade asks, “What if we could grow new life after we’ve died?”
Here’s how it works, (for brave and environmentally conscious future corpses only):
The body of the tiny 78-year-old woman, gray hair falling over stiffened shoulders, was brought to a hillside at Western Carolina University still clad in a blue hospital gown and chartreuse socks.
She was laid on a bed of wood chips, and then more were heaped atop her. If all goes as hoped, the body will turn into compost.
It is a startling next step in the natural burial movement. Even as more people opt for interment in simple shrouds or biodegradable caskets, urban cemeteries continue to fill up. For the environmentally conscious, cremation is a problematic option, as the process releases greenhouse gases.
Armed with a prestigious environmental fellowship, Katrina Spade, a 37-year-old Seattle resident with a degree in architecture, has proposed an alternative: a facility for human composting.
The idea is attracting interest from environmental advocates and scientists. The woman laid to rest in wood chips is a first step in testing how it would work.
“Composting makes people think of banana peels and coffee grounds,” Ms. Spade said. But “our bodies have nutrients. What if we could grow new life after we’ve died?”
The process is surprisingly simple: Place nitrogen-rich material, like dead animals, inside a mound of carbon-rich material, like wood chips and sawdust, adding moisture or extra nitrogen and making other adjustments as needed. Microbial activity will start the pile cooking.
Bacteria release enzymes that break down tissue into component parts like amino acids, and eventually, the nitrogen-rich molecules bind with the carbon-rich ones, creating a soil-like substance.
Ms. Spade estimates that each body, combined with the necessary materials such as wood chips and sawdust, would yield enough compost to fill a three-foot cube.
Weeks or months later, survivors could collect some of the compost to use as they saw fit, perhaps in their garden or to plant a tree. Ms. Spade foresees the rest going to nearby parks or conservation lands. Each human composting would cost about $2,500, a fraction of the price of conventional burial, Ms. Spade estimates.
She hopes to build the first facility in Seattle, then to develop a template that other communities can use for locally designed facilities. “Like libraries,” she said.