The tradition of laying your loved ones to rest in a coffin to be buried in a cemetery could come to an end. Whether driven by eco-conscious consumers, the rising costs of traditional funerals, or other factors, human composting is emerging as a promising choice for the mainstream.
Turning the human body into compost saves space as you don’t need burial plots. It minimizes the emissions associated with cremation and burial, which requires extras to enjoy embalming and coffins. At a practical level, human composting also produces usable food for plants.
Researchers are already exploring ways to carry out human composting safely, and regulations could catch up quickly and allow it at scale.
The emergence of human composting
Also known as natural organic reduction, human composting offers a green, low-emissions alternative to cremation or burial. The emergence of human composting could reflect growing consumer preference for eco-friendly death care besides a trend towards non-traditional products and services for funerals.
In the same way, you might compost your fruit peel or kitchen leftovers, human composting can turn a body into a few wheelbarrows of soil. The process might take as little as four to six weeks to complete.
One method in use involves putting the body into a reusable steel container. Wood chips, straw, and alfalfa are added, and the mixture is carefully controlled in terms of temperature and atmosphere. Maintaining the right the ratio of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen encourages the right heat-loving microbes to thrive. This significantly speeds up the rate of decomposition.
The decomposition process
Within around a month, everything including teeth and bones is broken down into compost. Tests have found this method results in a low level of coli form bacteria in the compost, which means it’s safe for family and friends to scatter the compost like ashes or use them around the garden at home.
Composting human remains in this way can significantly reduce the amount of energy required to deal with a body. The composting method uses one-eighth of the energy required for cremation. It eliminates the need for the embalming fluids used in burials, which sometimes leak out of coffins and into waterways.
Alternatives to human composting
Human composting might not yet be available everywhere, but similar alternatives exist. For example, green burials in a woodland setting are growing in popularity. With a green burial, the deceased’s body is wrapped in a biodegradable shroud and the burial plot might be marked with a sapling planted on top of the body or a simple plaque. Usually, the process doesn’t include embalming, and we bury the body at the shallowest legal depth to help it decompose more quickly.
Water cremation is yet another alternative that uses lower temperatures and therefore less energy than cremation. The process uses a chemical mixture to dissolve everything but the bones. The bones are then ground down into “ashes” for the bereaved family.
As far as carbon emissions and environmental impact go, how humans are laid to rest probably isn’t on the same level as taking countless flights and other activities. However, choosing an environmentally friendly death care option can make some difference, given tens of millions of people are laid to rest around the world each year.
Human compositing may be subject to local laws, and it may not be legal depending on your location. However, as scientists continue to study and perfect the process, the research might satisfy safety, public health, and other regulatory concerns and so pave the way for widespread adoption.
Over time, humans have progressively complicated laying people to rest. Embalming the body, lining burial plots with concrete, elaborate coffins, and even building mausoleums have allowed grieving relatives to respect and honor their loved ones. However, these traditions aren’t only expensive; they’re associated with a large environmental footprint.
It may be the norm for people to submit a deceased person’s body to a human composting facility and receive bags of soil. This simple, natural process of returning the body to soil could be a sustainable and dignified way to send off your loved ones.