Washingtonians will be turning dead bodies into compost

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The machine that composts the bodies. Photo: CAHNRS Communications / Washington State Univ

It’s quite nice to make your dead body useful when you’re gone and it will appeal to many people. One thing you can do is to turn it into compost and you know what, it smells great!

The machine that composts the bodies. Photo: CAHNRS Communications / Washington State Univ
The machine that composts the bodies. Photo: CAHNRS Communications / Washington State Univ.

“It’s a lot like you would get at a nursery: a bag of topsoil, that rich, earthy material. It will be dry, very consistent and fluffy.”

Katrina Spade who developed the method

Until now you could have your body buried or cremated. The citizens of Washington State, USA are spearheading another choice, namely, to make compost. It sounds a bit gruesome. Corpses are placed in reusable steel vessels. They add a mixture of wood chips, straw and alfalfa. Beforehand they remove artificial limbs, artificial hips and pacemakers. The containers are rotated for 30 days to maximise the oxygen flow which allows the microbes to break down the body.

Not only do you get compost you also save the planet because disposing of a body this way avoids the production of more than a tonne of carbon dioxide. I’m told that cremation releases about 540 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from burning fuel and the remains.

And when you bury a body there is the risk of the embalming chemicals leaching into the ground. To that you can add the problems of space and the necessity of manufacturing coffins and headstones which have an impact upon the planet’s resources.

The cost to turn your body into compost is about US$5000 whereas the cost of the average burial in America is $7000 and $1100 for a basic cremation.

The plan is to compost about 800 bodies annually.

“We expect that a lot of people will be very curious even before someone dies.”

Spade

They’re calling it a “death positive” movement. The business is hopeful that this third option will be selected by a significant number of people and I agree with them.

My thanks to the hard copy The Times newspaper.