Earlier, I wrote about the importance of composting (Returning to the Earth), particularly how food waste that is not composted and is disposed of in a landfill, rots and becomes a significant source of methane – a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global potential of carbon dioxide. In the United States, we waste between 30% and 40% of the food supply! A big deal!
Later I examined options and the various environmental impacts for dealing with my body once I pass this life. (What Do I Do With This Body?) Everybody dies, sooner or later, and the manner in which we “deal with the body” makes a difference to the environment. Traditional burials, cremation, green burials, and natural burials all have significantly different impacts on the environment. Caskets and burial vaults require energy and materials to make. Cremation requires significant energy (i.e., heat) and green or natural burials also have environmental impacts, although not nearly as significant as traditional burials or cremation.
A recent article by Caitlin Doughty in the N.Y. Times, described another option, namely composting the body. The article, If You Want to Give Something Back To Nature, Give Your Body, describes in general, the process that is being used for Human Composting — or, as it’s sometimes referred to, natural organic reduction. It is a fascinating process and I won’t repeat it here, but the end product of human composting, which takes about 6-8 weeks – is approximately one cubic yard of “special earth”. Special earth can be scattered, or placed in a cemetery or garden or other special place, depending on the family’s desires. It is a way to literally return to the earth. Besides being much less expensive, and far more environmentally friendly, this process fulfills many people’s desires to nurture the earth after dying. Five states — Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado, and most recently, California — have either legalized or set a date for legalizing human composting as a means of disposition after death. New York is expected to be added to the list soon.
Regarding the environmental impact (i.e., CO2 emissions) human composting is 90% less as carbon-intensive as cremation and 98% less carbon-intensive when compared to a traditional burial and concrete vault.
Over time, our perspective on death and dealing with our bodies evolves. Changing the ways we look at death and the body, from the perspective of protecting the body from nature to returning the body to nature, may require a personal reexamination, but it is an option that can be considered to better the circle of life.