Science & Technology

Human bodies in to compost: A new funeral practise

Recompose offers human composting, or natural organic reduction as a greener alternative to burial, cremation

Published: Wednesday 19 February 2020

What happens after death: While this question has evoked a plethora of philosophical rumination, cultures and communities have tried to address it their own, physical ways by evolving various methods to deal with dead bodies.

From mummification in several ancient cultures, including the Egyptian, to the modern electric cremation — humans have found several way to dispose of the death. But most such processes have an environmental cost.

In the United States, each year, more than 30 million board feet wood, 1.6 million tonne concrete, 750,000 gallons embalming fluid and 90,000 tonnes steel are used for burial.  Excessive nutrients, metals, and formaldehyde are commonly found in groundwater beneath cemeteries.

While cremations are practiced by many cultures, including in India — the world’s second-most populous country — many opt for it, to go light on environment. But cremations lead to emission of 246,240 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, according to Funeral Consumers Alliance.

There are some alternate green burial systems, but with limited reach.

Recompose, a US-based company, has pitched an alternative — human composting, or natural organic reduction. It is the brainchild of Katrina Spade, a 42-year-old entrepreneur and death care expert.

Once a body arrives at the company’s facility, it is wrapped with linen and laid into the ground. It is then covered with wood chips and other carbon materials such as Sawdust, which help in composting, Spade said.

Microbes help turn the body into soil-like material within a few weeks of burial. By controlling the ratio of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and moisture, the system creates the perfect environment for these creatures to thrive.

These microbes are thermophilic (heat-loving). The heat produced by microbial activity kills off dangerous pathogens in the body, claims the company.

The company though doesn’t allow the composting of those who have died of highly contagious diseases like Ebola.

The soil-like material is rich with nutrients and can be used in agriculture. The US state of Washington legalised human composting as a funeral option in 2019.

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