By Holly Giles
Climate change was the Word of the Year for 2019 and it seems every day it affects another part of our lives and this week it may even become part of our death. It is commonly headlining the media and seems to govern every decision we make. This has been taken a step further by Washington this week as they have legalised “human composting” as a means of burial so people can die in as eco-friendly a manner as in which they lived.
The process is being run by the company ‘ Recompose’ under the leadership of Katrina Spade. She thinks that concerns about climate change has been the main reason for the company’s popularity; “So far 15,000 people have signed up to our newsletter… The project has moved forward so quickly because of the urgency of climate change and the awareness we have to put it right.”
The company is now able to offer human composting burials to the public in the state of Washington but this process has been a long time in the making. Spade began thinking of the idea in 2003 and has been working with soil scientist Professor Lynne Carpenter Boggs for the last four to establish the methodology of composing. Boggs began with six participants who donated their bodies for use after their death and tested different conditions for composition. She explained this was a distressing process for all involved; “We all kept checking in on each other. My physiology felt different, I wasn’t sleeping well for a few nights, I wasn’t hungry – it was a distress response”
The team pushed on however and reached a decided method; this involves the body being encased in a closed vessel with wood chips, alfalfa and straw before being slowly rotated to allow bacteria to break it down. This takes a process of 30 days, after which the remains can be scattered by the family.
Spade explains that the body being encased prevents 1.4 tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere when compared with cremation as the carbon is reintegrated into the soil by microbes. With the 15,000 people already signed up this would amount to 21,000 tonnes of carbon being prevented from reaching our atmosphere.
A sponsor behind the movement Senator Jamie Pederson promotes the change “It’s about time we apply some technology, allow some technology to be applied to this universal human experience … because we think that people should have the freedom to determine for themselves how they’d like their body to be disposed of.”
Despite only being legal in Washington now, Spade thinks it is only a matter of time before this method becomes regular practice; “We hope other states will pick up the idea once we get going in Washington. We have had lots of excitement from the UK and other parts of the world and we hope to open branches overseas when we can.”