- The Seattle-based Urban Death Project is trying to raise $500,000 to build a prototype corpse composting facility at Washington State University next spring, as reported by The Seattle Times. The team will experiment with hog carcasses first.
- Bodies would be placed into the top of a facility between layers of wood chips, alfalfa and straw. With minimal mechanical intervention and some microbial stimulants they would decompose downward over a period of multiple weeks. A person of 150-200 pounds is expected to produce compost with six pounds of nitrogen, two pounds of phosphorus and one pound of potassium — a similar ratio to cottonseed meal fertilizer.
— Olson Kundig (@olsonkundig) October 30, 2016
- Founder Katrina Spade envisions family members carrying the bodies up to the top of the facility in a memorial service and coming back weeks later to collect the resulting compost from the bottom. The nonprofit aims to be fully operational by 2023 and accept about 850 bodies per year to start. It will eventually license the technology to other centers around the country.
Spade first had the idea seven years ago, received a climate fellowship grant to pursue it further and has since assembled a team of architectural, legal and scientific experts to make it happen. Cremation is on the rise, but burials still account for the majority of end-of-life methods. Environmental concerns around both practices have led to an increased interest in "green burials," but the Urban Death Project would take that a step further.
While the average U.S. resident is living longer the Census Bureau estimates that someone dies every 13 seconds and population growth is projected to continue in coming decades. As demonstrated by landfills, the U.S. still has large swaths of available space for burial though less of it is near urban population centers. This has inspired a shift to cremation in cities such as New York and Berlin has even started using some cemeteries as parks.
Getting people comfortable with human composting will take time, but current trends in the waste and recycling industry world may help. The national movement to reduce food waste and regain value by turning it into energy or compost is based on the same principle of viewing organic material as a resource. Using the human compost for some type of urban agricultural purpose would also be the ultimate example of a closed loop system.