Features Mar 3, 2015 at 11:00 am

What if We Composted Our Bodies Instead of Burying or Cremating Them? The Revolutionary Idea Behind the Urban Death Project

The three-story structure for composting humans could have a circular ramp to the top, for processionals and other funeral rites. Jeremy Sorese


Great reporting on such a timely, important, and interesting topic.
Regarding the 1st comment from stumped: Spade is an architect and clearly putting a metric fuckton of research and consultation with experts in related industries into this. I'm pretty sure those factors are being taken into consideration.
Very interesting. Wow... I think I want to be green-buried or composted.
I like the idea but it sounds like too much of a project for it to ever start to happen. Everybody wants to design it, will anyone actually do it? Meantime, better to find lists of places your family can just tote you to and bury you in the ground in a shroud.
By 'do' I mean build the thing, not use it if it does get built
@3 re: @1, not to mention the whole idea is to have a more benign environmental impact overall. And if it cracks open somehow (lol, what???) or doesn't work right...so what? It's not like when an earthquake damages a nuclear reactor tower...this thing basically produces soil.
I have been following Katrina and her work for a few months now, and I am excited for it to happen. I have always thought about composting in the back of my min, (seriously, for 20-25 odd years) but this is the first time that I have felt confident that it is actually a reachable goal. I don't want to be embalmed and entombed, and I don't want the carbon footprint associated with Cremation.I want Lion King worthy circle of life.

I have also read about this Urban Death Project from a number of sources (NPR, HuffPo etc) and all the stories are boiler-plate. Thank-you Stranger, and Brendan Kiley for a so much better in depth treatment of the subject.

Just tell me where to sign up!
Thanks for these great comments! Just a note to everyone interested in following the progress of this project - you can sign up for monthly e-updates at www.urbandeathproject.org. Also, we're preparing to launch a big Kickstarter Campaign on March 30, so please stay tuned...!
This is so exciting. After a long life of plundering the earth's resources, I have always thought that at the very least I hope I can eventually give back my measly cubic yard. Please make this composting dream happen!
This is a terrible idea. As apex predators, our bodies are loaded with heavy metals. Let's not put those back in the food chain!

How about burial at sea instead? Or require the human compost only be used for ornamental gardens/areas only.
@9 - you're going to need to make arrangement soon if you're a measly cubic yard. Average humans are closer to 0.09 cubic yards in volume. Ten times that would make you very. very large.

Interesting and thought-provoking read - I'm all in favor of eating Uncle Ned's carrots but the organic lobby is going to have a fit about the Cheesy Poofs dipped in Cheez Whiz that @9 subsists on.

So the ocean is not part of the food chain? Regardless, where do you think those heavy metals originated? For your last point, i doubt many will be using it as compost for their tomatoes.

Yeah, I'm with @13... So are you against Cremation as well? or do you imagine that the fire involved has so alchemist magic that transforms the heavy metals rather than sending them up the chimney (to rain back down on us) or left behind in the ash (to be spread someplace on land or at sea). And what about all of the non-human "apex" predators that die in the woods, where our watershed originates? Don't those cause the same problems that you are dreaming up?

Seriously, though, my biggest concern would be more along the lines of people who die from cancer after being pumped full of (basically poisonous) chemotherapy drugs.
Is it too early to call dibs on the wings, and ribs?

I'm all in on this "Circle of Life" stuff.
@11, he got that cubic yard thing from the article :-/. We seem to be less dense after composting perhaps,
Lovely article. I'm glad to see some serious exploration of alternatives to cremation or what we now think of as "conventional" burial (embalming, caskets, vaults, the whole lot.) The pathogen question, though, is a tough one.

All of the risks and problems attendant to composting human waste are compounded when you're talking about composting whole bodies.

These risks are small in the grand scheme of things - if this method were to take off, orders of magnitude more people would probably be seriously harmed in car accidents on the way to pick up this human-humus than be seriously harmed by some pathogen acquired from inappropriate handling or use of said compost - but I can't imagine a project like this getting any kind of liability insurance for these risks. Underwriters, like funeral directors, are a conservative bunch.

Best of luck to those involved.
@13,14 Dilution is the solution to pollution!
I'd be for requiring filters from crematories once we shut down all the coal plants, though.

@14 bears don't live 90 years eating tuna. I think chemotherapy is organic compounds though, so should be compostable.
Can't call yourself an architect unless licensed. See https://fortress.wa.gov/dol/dolprod/bpdL…

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