Some people wish to have their dead bodies allowed to decompose naturally in the soil in a green way.
We must all leave this Earth one day and some people are considering doing so in a truly green way: by becoming compost to nurture the soil.
Rather than cremated or buried in coffins in cemeteries, these people wish to have their remains allowed to decompose naturally in the soil, thereby releasing nutrients to it. That way they can nourish new life after they die.
Now the state of Washington in the U.S. wants to legalize this practice in a move welcomed by some environmentalists. In an approach called “recomposition,” cadavers will be allowed to decompose naturally into nutrient-dense soil. It is an inexpensive process and more environmentally friendly than cremation, which releases CO2 into the air, and casketed burials, which can leach harmful chemicals into the soil.
“People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves,” says Jamie Pedersen, a senator in the state who is sponsoring a bill in the local legislature on expanding the options for disposing of human remains.
The lawmaker says recomposition is not only an environmental but a social justice issue as well because it will benefit people who can’t afford proper funerals or don’t want to be cremated. The cost of recomposition, soon to be offered by a company, will be $5,500, which is considerably cheaper than traditional funerals, which cost $7,000, although cremations in the state can cost as little as $1,000 without a service and an urn.
When taken together, cremations and traditional burials have a marked environmental cost. In the U.S. “30 million board feet of wood, 1.6 million tons of concrete, 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid, and 90,000 tons of steel are used every year for conventional burials,” an online environmental publication explains. “Cremation releases 250,000 tons of CO2 each year, the equivalent of burning nearly 30 million gallons of gasoline.”
The idea of composting human remains in Washington came from Katrina Spade, a Seattle-based dead care advocate and entrepreneur who founded the nonprofit Urban Death Project in 2014, which is now known as Recompose. “We really only have two easily accessible options in the U.S. — cremation and burial,” Spade observes. “And the question is: Why do we only have two options, and what would it look like if we had a dozen?”
Spade was inspired by the practice of composting livestock after the animals die. In what is known as “mortality composting” the carcasses of animals are placed in a compost bin, there to be decomposed naturally by microbes that break down soft tissues and bones. The process makes soils richer while also stopping pathogens from contaminating adjacent land areas.
The same kind of environmentally beneficial process can also be applied to human remains. “Our modular system uses nature’s principles to return our bodies to the earth, sequestering carbon and improving soil health. In fact, we’ve calculated carbon savings over a metric ton per person,” Spade’s nonprofit explains.
“Recompose takes guidance from nature,” it adds. “At the heart of our model is a system that will gently return us to the earth after we die.”