Recycling our bodies
April 3, 2015 11:47 AM   Subscribe

The Urban Death Project is a Seattle-based nonprofit that will help turn you into compost when you die. "We aren’t just creating a new system that turns bodies into soil – we are striving for an entirely new paradigm of death care."
posted by velvet winter (25 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I came up with my own compost plan...

When I can't hack it anymore, I will get a pool floatie that you can lay down on. Tie a couple cinder blocks to me. Float out into the swamp. Stab floatie with pin. Slowly sink down into the swamp muck. Expire. Come back every full moon as a swamp lich. Easy. Peasy.
posted by ian1977 at 12:01 PM on April 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

Seattle takes composting pretty seriously. Joking aside, composing and recycling really do cut down on what goes to landfills in Oregon.

It's tough to imagine that pumping dead bodies with a few gallons of a known carcinogen like formaldehyde, methanol and arsenic and putting them six feet under can be good for anyone near a cemetery, or anyone downstream of the water table, for that matter, let alone the people who work in funeral homes.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:06 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is fantastic!
posted by aniola at 12:09 PM on April 3, 2015

I always wondered if it would freak my family out too much to donate me to the Body Farm. It's really gross! But also, science.
posted by emjaybee at 12:17 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Lungful of dragon -

From In 1996, a group of Australians from the National Centre for Groundwater Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, conducted fairly extensive research on this very topic. As far as I know, this particular study is the only one like it ever conducted anywhere. They examined, over the course of 136 days between 1996 and 1998, a total of nine cemeteries and crematoria around Australia. They concluded that the biggest problem to groundwater sources underneath cemeteries comes from rainfall. Stormwater has a number of options when it hits the ground: It can evaporate, pool, run off somewhere, or infiltrate the ground. According to the Australians, it's this infiltration that poses the biggest threat. As the rainwater infiltrates the decaying wood of a casket, it soaks up all of the possible contamination from the contents and deposits it in the surrounding soil, and eventually into the underlying water table.

Ultimately, it's safe to say that there's nothing about cemetery contamination that presents that big a risk to our health.

Also, in the U.S. many cemeteries require burial vaults so the cemetery has less maintenance from sinking graves.

That said, after my organs are harvested, I want to be a diamond.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:23 PM on April 3, 2015

Agree emjaybee. Plus, grossness aside, there's sometging kinda cheery about having people come and visit your carcass and squint and take notes and poke it with pencils and count maggots and such. And you're surrounded by like minded people/corpses.
posted by ian1977 at 12:24 PM on April 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

I like the thought of future archaeologists excavating my remains to find a few bone fragments, a dental implant, and a bunch of surgical clips in my body cavity, and speculating what it all means.
posted by Existential Dread at 12:26 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: surrounded by like minded people/corpses

Ideally I'd like to be buried in a field somewhere, after any usable bits have been chopped off, and just left to rot with a tree growing over top.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:26 PM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is fantastic!

I agree. I really hope this project is successful. I'd like to see this option become widely available. And I am 100% serious when I say that this is what I'd like done with my body when I die. I'm going to talk to my loved ones about it.
posted by velvet winter at 12:27 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a pretty die-hard obsessive about composting. This may have to supercede my current, less carbon-neutral plan to be cremated and thrown in the faces of my enemies.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:34 PM on April 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best leave a will die and others do what comes next.
posted by Postroad at 1:04 PM on April 3, 2015

Hard to beat the sky burial or viking ship burial for awesomeness factor, yet being turned into soil is pretty darn cool -- despite the "striving for an entirely new paradigm of death care" sucking all the badassery out of the process with soul-destroying corporatespeak.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:07 PM on April 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

My dad had to deal with the procedures for being buried outside the hospital-funeral home-graveyard pipeline last year when a friend passed away, and one of the hurdles that might be relevant here was that the police apparently needed to be notified of what was going on, presumably so that if someone later on found human remains at the burial site they would know it wasn't a crime scene. Obviously composting doesn't have exactly the same issues, but I'm guessing there are still laws on the books about how human remains are treated.

In this specific case, there were also some complications getting the right kind and amount of linen for my dad's friend's preferred druidic burial rite, and I'm not sure that whatever they ended up doing would have passed muster with Taliesin, but they did what the could. More pressingly, the guy who owned the farm where the friend was buried was out of town that week and it was only my dad's affiliation with a local medical school (and knowledge of its corpse storage facilities) that kept him from driving around for days with the unembalmed, linen-wrapped body of the guy whose will my dad was executor of in the trunk of his car. Registered with the police or not, that's a scenario where getting pulled over for speeding could have some pretty bad consequences.
posted by Copronymus at 1:07 PM on April 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm glad to see this. I'm happy to see any discussion around different ways of approaching the dead in this country. I look forward to the day when we bring up the idea of grave recycling the German way.
posted by barchan at 1:15 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes, I agree that there should be some grammer-Godwin law against use of the word "paradigm"—

similar to the law that any newspaper headline that asks a yes-or-no question ("Do humpback whales cause cancer in humans?"), don't actually have to be read, and can simply be answered instead with a "No."

—that any person employing the word "paradigm" to talk about what they are doing should be ignored, or pointed at or something. We could call it the Summer’s Eve Law for un-needed douche-baggery.
posted by blueberry at 2:23 PM on April 3, 2015

My father passed away about 10 years ago, and was embalmed and buried in a metal-clad coffin, which was then buried inside a concrete container at the cemetery. No worries about contamination, but no chance of going back to the soil, either.

As for me, when I heard the song Bury Me Deep, by Poi Dog Pondering, it really spoke to me. That is what I want for my "final resting place".

A lifetime of accomplishments of which the dirt knows none,
Only in death can one truly return
Return the carrots, the apples and potatoes,
The chickens, the cows, the fish and tomatoes.
In one glorious swoop, let the deed be done
And bury me deep so that I can be one...

posted by Jefffurry at 2:24 PM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Can they combine this with a medical marijuana grow operation?

Otherwise I'm not interested.
posted by ocschwar at 2:39 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

You know, when I was single and having a hard time with dating, I joked about making a T-shirt that said "Date me, I'm biodegradable." They should consider that as a fundraiser.
posted by nubs at 3:18 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

> Ideally I'd like to be buried in a field somewhere, after any usable bits have been chopped off, and just left to rot with a tree growing over top.

Yes yes yes. This. I've been saying this to my friends and family for years (I actually told a coworker this yesterday when we were doing something slightly dangerous on the job).

And I very much mean it.
posted by toofuture at 7:46 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I too have been investigating the Body Farm and how to get myself there. Then I foundSteelmantown Cemetary which may be a suitable alternative if you live in or near NJ.
posted by lyssabee at 5:48 AM on April 4, 2015

It sounds like being buried in a field wouldn't be practical in an urban environment. Which is unfortunate, because it sounds a whole lot more attractive and sensible than being piled in with a bunch of other dead bodies, even though it sounds like the best option as things stand today.

I wonder if modern cities could still function if 95% of all motor vehicles were removed. I wonder if there might then be room to bury all the urban dead in the streets and grow perennials on top.

It would be beautiful.
posted by aniola at 7:48 AM on April 4, 2015

True fact: if they would have let her, my granny, a huge bird/nature lover, would have done a sky burial type thing, i.e., let the birds pick her clean.
posted by Gymnopedist at 7:38 AM on April 5, 2015

Folk singer Lee Heywood requested that he be cremated, then mixed into his compost pile --- which yes: his friends did exactly that.

My own plans start with organ donation (you're welcome to any part you find useful, since I won't be using them again!), then cremation and being packed into a biodegradable box. After that I'm not sure about: one sister has offered to spread my ashes in her vegetable garden, but another has offered to plant me next to her kids' deceased hamster --- I told them they can flip a coin to decide the winner.
posted by easily confused at 9:57 AM on April 5, 2015

It's weird if anything, but if that is their wish, they should be dispersed the way they want to be.

That being said, I'd rather be cremated or buried in a *Christian* cemetary. While I'm also not pro-pollutant, I think the risks are overly exaggerated of late, nevertheless. There are far worse things, after all.

To each their own, they should have control over how they are let-go, but I'm not leaving, that way, anyway.

And a will would seem explicitly necessary. Much like the parent or remaining family member who might pull the plug on a brain-dead or otherwise patient who, if were alive, might've wished to live, it's better to make sure you're prepared for this type of circumstance as well; this is so that if you don't want to go-out that way, you don't, but you go-out the way you want, and not simply on a presumed-notion say-so.
posted by Grease at 2:25 PM on April 5, 2015

Grease: you can pre-plan and pre-pay for your choice of burial, cremation, whatever, at just about any funeral home. Not all of them will do 'green' choices, of course, but you just find one that'll do what you want.

True, your family could choose to ignore your pre-paid plans and have your body hauled to the funeral home of THEIR choice instead, but that's why you should also discuss your preferences with your family.

The problem with stating your burial preferences in a will is that usually, the will is dealt with later, well after your body is dealt with.
posted by easily confused at 3:33 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

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