As eerie as it sounds, human composting is said to have a lot of environmental benefits. An option that will ensure that your remains are used up for good in a safe and effective way.
Recently there was a viral video that circulated on the internet wherein Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves, when faced with a philosophical question about what happens when we die, gave a very heart-warming answer – “The people who love us will miss us.” His answer was simple and profound and resonated with everyone. It is a universal truth after all; death is so final and absolute. All around the world, bodies are either cremated or buried. Cremation adds to pollution and burial occupies space that could be utilized for something else. Religious values and principles, of course, play an influential part in people’s decision on their preferred method of leaving this world and no one can begrudge them that. But, what if there was a way to help your loved ones even in death. Something that prima facie sounds dark but in the long term may be beneficial.
Washington has become the first US state to legalize human composting. Residents of Washington can now choose this alternative option, of converting their bodies into useful soil, for themselves. This does not mean that your loved one’s body will be tossed into a pit with rotting food and other biodegradable waste. After a fitting funeral, hygienic and respectable measures will be taken to continue with the process of composting. Human composting is already legal in Sweden and the UK has legalized natural burials i.e. burial without a casket or in biodegradable coffins.
One of the chief lobbyists for the bill in Washington, Katrina Spade, also set up a company called Recompose which will be the first commercial company to offer this service, which they have named as ‘Recomposition’. Growing up in a medical family, she was always concerned about crowded cemeteries and the environmental effects of disposing of remains through cremation. This is when Spade came up with the notion of Recomposition for human remains and began designing a space that would serve this process. According to her, “Recomposition offers an alternative to embalming and burial or cremation that is natural, safe, sustainable, and will result in significant savings in carbon emissions and land usage.” Mortality composting involves taking an animal high in nitrogen and, rather than burying it, covering it with co-composting materials that are high in carbon. If people opt for Recompose, they will place the body in a hexagonal steel container filled with alfalfa, wood chip, and straw. They will then shut and seal the container which will cause the body to decompose naturally. When it is opened up again after thirty days, the body is gone, and in its place will be fresh and fertile soil. During this entire process, the family of the deceased can visit the facility any number of times they wish and will also receive the soil in the end. They can then decide how to go about it.
Since this option is still in its nascent stage, it is expensive. The process was also at the centre of a study at Washington University. Six people had donated their bodies to test this procedure where it was proved that it was indeed safe and effective. If this option becomes the norm, it will also result in reduced costs of funerals. Other environmentally conducive options that exist include ‘bio-cremation’. This involves dissolving the body in an alkaline solution. Hollywood actor Luke Perry was buried in a ‘mushroom suit’ or an ‘infinity burial suit’ – a completely biodegradable garment that acts as an alternative to a traditional coffin. It cleanses the body of all toxins and prompts quick decomposition.
By opting for human composting, a person can choose to convert his body into fertile soil which can then be used to grow tomatoes or flowers in his very own garden – a bittersweet and eco-friendly ending.