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If You’re Really “Green” You Must Compost your Dead


Katrina Spade

According to the line of reasoning of hardcore environmentalists, in our modern times, formal burial is difficult to justify for those of us who aren’t religious. [5] Urban cemeteries are becoming increasingly overcrowded, with their graves quite inefficiently evenly-spaced in reverence of a sort of “death equivalent of personal space.” [5]  They argue that conventional burring serve little to no purpose and certainly contribute no good, other than to provide surviving family members with a place to grieve and remember – something which there would still be room for in a different system. [5]  What would such a new system might be like?  How could we  dispose of our dead relatives in a sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion?  You may have guessed it! Believe it or not, some green lunatics are now proposing that we should start composting our dead family members the same way we do with table scraps… all of this in the name of “saving the planet.”  Katrina Spade, director of the Urban Death Project, and Cheryl Johnston, a forensic anthropologist at Western Carolina University, started a project in which they try to use dead bodies as compost for plant growth.  [1] “Composting makes people think of banana peels and coffee grounds,” Spade told the New York Times. [1]  [7] “Our bodies have nutrients. What if we could grow new life after we’ve died?”  [5] They describes the process of turning dead humans into food as follows:

The Urban Death Project is a compost-based renewal system. At the heart of the project is a three-story core, within which bodies and high-carbon materials are placed. Over the span of a few months, with the help of aerobic decomposition and microbial activity, the bodies decompose fully, leaving a rich compost. The Urban Death Project is not simply a system for turning our bodies into soil-building material. It is also a space for the contemplation of our place in the natural world, and a ritual to help us say goodbye to our loved ones by connecting us with the cycles of nature. [2]


Cheryl Johnston

The Urban Death Project website describes the project as a 501(c) non-profit, and a fundraising effort is due to launch March 30th on Kickstarter. The donate page explains, “Your gift supports the creation of a meaningful, equitable, and ecological alternative for the care and processing of our deceased.” [2] Despite health and moral concerns about using dead bodies as compost, Spade’s proposal has excited Seattle environmentalists and some scientists who say it would be a way to bury the dead in an eco-friendly way and fight global warming. [5] Apparently, cremation releases too many carbon dioxide emissions for some activists.  [5] Once attached on the global warming bandwagon, this eco-burial phenomenon has caught on in the past 10 or 15 years, getting more and more popular and even managed to get Katrina Spade a starring role in one episode of the popular mid-’00s TV show Six Feet Under. [9]

So how would this even work? Spade, an architect by trade, designed a three-story facility vault, called “the core,” where about 30 dead people can be brought and composted. There would be a short ceremony before bodies were placed into the vault and over “several weeks, each body would move down the core until the first stage of composting was complete.”  After that, the human compost would be “cured.” Spade says each body, along with wood chips, sawdust and other biodegradable materials would make enough compost to fill a three-foot cube. Once the compost is ready, family members “could collect some of the compost to use as they saw fit, perhaps in their garden or to plant a tree,” reports the Times.  [7] Spade touts that each composting would cost about $2,500 — only a fraction of what it costs to get buried in a coffin in a cemetery.  “Beyond the environmental benefits to composting humans, she believes there is a spiritual one: connecting death to the cycle of nature will help people face their own mortality and bring comfort to the bereaved,” the Times reports, adding that “[c]onventional burial is anything but natural.” [1] [7]

Spade’s idea has gotten some criticism and also faces some legal barriers. The Times notes some states have “legalized alkaline hydrolysis, sometimes known as water cremation, in which bodies are dissolved in a heated mix of water and lye.”  Many other states, however, say bodies must be “buried, entombed, cremated or donated to science.” There are also health concerns because “pathogens, like the prions related to mad cow disease, can survive composting, and livestock that have died from certain diseases are banned from composting.”  [1] [2] Public health experts have advised that livestock compost not be used in fruits and fields where vegetables are grown. Some have even warned that heavy metal contamination could occur because of the fact that so many people get dental fillings. [1] [2] This is not a joke: A typical city-dweller living in America today has an atrociously high level of toxic mercury in their teeth. On top of that, they have also bio-accumulated extremely high levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic and other toxic heavy metals which persist during composting. Lead is often bound to calcium in the human skeletal system. As those bones decompose, they release the lead which becomes part of the composted soil. This lead, in turn, is taken up by plant roots and shuttled into the food crops to be eaten by other humans. [2] Composting human bodies, in other words, would concentrate the toxic heavy metals and chemicals which are already causing a wave of degeneration and disease around the world. In fact, the mass of a modern human body would be considered “environmentally hazardous” by the EPA if it were water. That’s because humans bio-accumulate and concentrate the toxins of modern agriculture, animal feed, toxic medicine and toxic home building materials. [2]  Despite those public health concerns, Spade and Johnston are already testing their theory out, composting 12 bodies in the open air — one dead 78-year-old woman had been laying in wood chips for about three weeks. So far, the two have been unsuccessful in their composting endeavors.  [1] “Nothing much has happened,” said Johnston. “I’m not surprised. I mean, I’d be jumping for joy if it was reading 120 degrees.”  [1]

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[1] Michael Bastasch, Eco-Activists: Go Green, Compost Your Dead!, Daily Caller, 1:17 PM 04/14/2015
[3] Bryan Nelson, Green burial: How to turn a human body into compost, Mother Nature Network, Tue, Mar 08, 2011 at 11:36 PM
[4] Composting the dead — the greenest goodbye?, CBC, Dec 15, 2014 10:42 AM ET
[5] Christopher Hooton, Why don’t we just compost the dead?, The Independent, Wednesday 15 April 2015
[6] Tobias Salinger, Human compost: Urban Death Project aims to harness the body’s nutrients to ‘grow new life after we’ve died’, New York Dailly News, Tuesday, April 14, 2015, 1:58 AM
[7] CATRIN EINHORNAPRIL, A Project to Turn Corpses Into Compost, The New York Time, APRIL 13, 2015
[9] Nina Shapiro, The Urban Death Project Will Help You Give Back—by Turning You Into Compost, Seattle Weekly, Tue., Jul 8 2014 at 09:33AM
[10] Katie Herzog, How human composting will change death in the city, Grist, 9 Mar 2015
[12]  Sarah Berman, This Seattle Non-Profit Wants to Compost Dead People, Vice, March 17, 2015
[15] Rose Eveleth, ‘I will be turned into compost when I die’, BBC, 19 February 2015


About Bill Wallace

Bill Wallace is a self-fashioned writter, a computer programmer and cybermarketer from Quebec City, Canada who decided to enter the political arena after his disillusionment with the socialist system under which he was living in the French Canadian province of Quebec.

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