Human remains as compost? A trend in the making

The sheer number of Baby Boomers is challenging social, government and medical systems as they age, but what happens when they die?

Burying? Burning?

How about composting?

Between 2024 and 2042, 76 million Americans could reach the current average life span of 78 years. Burying their remains would claim an area bigger than Las Vegas. Coffins, sheathed with metal or fine hardwoods, usually are laid in concrete liners to protect the remains. As a result, an estimated 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million board feet of expensive wood, and 1.6 million tons of concrete are buried with us each year. About 750,000 gallons of embalming chemicals go down there, too.

About 40 percent of us opt for cremation, which uses enough fossil fuels to release more than 500 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every time one of us goes up in smoke. Each year in the US, cremation rivals the carbon footprint of 40,000 cars.

In the US alone, we spend about $20 billion a year disposing of ourselves.

Katrina Spade wants to compost us instead.

A Seattle architect, she started the Urban Death Project with a vision: Corpses are laid in a bed of wood chips, sawdust and other high-carbon materials and covered with more of the same. Within a few weeks, the body, bones included, turns to nourishing compost. Farmers have been doing it for decades with dead animals ― and the concept has been proven in research centers that train cadaver dogs.

Spade foresees a three-story funeral home with a ramp spiraling to the top, where remains are interred. As compost is shoveled out the bottom, new space opens up above. Your compost could be sequestered so your family could take you home to fertilize the tomato plants, or you could mix your leftovers with others and feed public gardens.

TRENDPOST: It may seem gruesome to some, but Spade already has private funding and is launching a crowdfunding campaign to help bring her idea to life. In just the last year, organizations are forming across the globe to promote and advance this cause.

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