Can Human Bodies Become Compost?

Our burial practices are generally a taboo topic. We don’t like to think about death, least of all how our burials will affect the environment. Unfortunately, burials aren’t very sustainable, so let’s talk about it.

The modern human burial process is both costly and environmentally toxic.

“Each year, we bury enough metal to build the Golden Gate Bridge, enough wood to build 1,800 single-family homes, and enough carcinogenic embalming fluid to fill eight Olympic-sized swimming pools… Cremation… burns fossil fuels and emits about 600 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually – that’s the equivalent of more than 70,000 cars driving the road for a year.” (Urban Death Project)

Surprised? Surely, you don’t want your body’s final act on earth to be further polluting the planet. So is there a better way?

Katrina Spade, founder of the Urban Death Project in Seattle, seems to think so. She believes that human bodies can be composted, just as some farmers do with livestock, at a fraction of the cost and in a way that will benefit the environment. In fact, she estimates this service would cost only about $2,500 — a fraction of the cost of a traditional burial. The idea is that the human body can be broken down into basic nutrients — like nitrogen and phosphorous — if given the proper circumstances. As it breaks down into life’s basic building blocks, the resulting compost can be used to nourish the soil and encourage new plant growth. It’s the same idea as composting fruit peels. Spade hopes to create a building with a 3 story core to accommodate grievers laying their loved ones to rest while initiating and overseeing the composting process.

It is a beautiful idea, our bodies giving life back to nature — providing the basic nutrients needed for a lavender bush to flourish or a new pine tree to spring up — but is society ready for it? There are many people who would dismiss this idea as disgusting, but infusing a corpse with toxic formaldehyde doesn’t set the bar much higher. There is also the question of heavy metals, like fillings, which would have to be removed before composting, and the question of which pathogens can survive the composting process. While this is a novel idea with real promise, there is still much research to be done and  certain criticism to be dealt with. For those interested in learning more about the Urban Death Project, you can visit the team’s recently launched Kickstarter campaign.

Does the idea of composting corpses give you the creeps? Or does it sound like a logical solution to filling graveyards, depleting soil, polluted planet, and costly burial services? Share your thoughts below!

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269 comments

Paulo R
Paulo R1 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R1 months ago

ty

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W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thanks.

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William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

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Marija M
Marija M1 years ago

Interesting comments...tks.

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Peggy B
Peggy B1 years ago

Embalming is basically an American thing to crank up the costs. So is the 'underground' vault. All dreamed up by US undertakers to hike the prices up. Other countries don't go to these extremes.

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Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers1 years ago

Why not just continue doing burials?

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Lindsay K
Lindsay K1 years ago

Thanks for sharing . Certainly something to think about!

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Maureen G
Maureen G1 years ago

I am amazed at the low prices of cremation quoted in many of the comments. Even a direct cremation.....no service etc....can run into thousands of Australian dollars particularly where there is only access to one funeral director.

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Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer3 years ago

I enjoyed the comments.

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