Washington authorities were the first in the United States to legalize a new method of burial of people – in the form of compost. In California, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are buying forests to fertilize cremated ashes. According to some scientists, the remains of the deceased should be used with greater benefit for the environment.
In 1999, the Swedish biologist Suzanne Wiig-Masak patented a method for producing humus. Organic material is cooled in a special chamber with liquid nitrogen to a temperature of about 190 degrees Celsius. Then crushed in a mill or ultrasound and re-frozen.
Then the material is placed in a biodegradable container, for example in a peat pot, and buried in the ground to a depth of 25 centimeters. Soil bacteria complete the job. Nearby, it is recommended to plant a plant whose roots themselves will get to fertilizer.
So you can recycle any organic matter: household waste, the corpse of an animal or … human.
This idea arose in the wake of the crematorium scandals in Sweden. Environmentalists were worried about emissions of mercury into the atmosphere resulting from the burning of dental fillings. Given that seventy percent of Swedes are cremated, anxiety is not unfounded.
In the book “Cadavre. How the body serves science after death,” journalist Mary Roach estimates freezing – drying the remains as very promising. The technology was supposed to be introduced in 2003, but something went wrong.
Promessa, founded by Wiig-Masak to promote innovation, was liquidated in 2015. And since March of this year, the patent is not supported either. No one ever bought it.
Microbes come to grips
Tim Evans, a graduate of the University of Tennessee in the United States, proposed turning the dead into compost in 1998. He experimented with a real corpse and was pleased with the result. Then he turned to the authorities of Hawaii and China, where it is very tight with the ground under the cemetery. The idea was not appreciated. As Roach writes in his book, people are too conservative for this.
Maybe now the situation has changed? Entrepreneur Katrina Spade launched the Recompose project in 2014 to offer greener funeral services. The deceased is brought to the memorial complex and turned into compost.
The technology of rapid composting (decomposition) is well known to farmers, who thus get rid of dead animals. For a man, it was modernized by soil scientists from the University of Washington under the direction of Lynn Carpenter-Boggs.
They conducted experiments with six corpses bequeathed to the university for the benefit of science. The body was placed in a capsule with wood chips. Water and a sweet solution were poured, heated to 55 degrees Celsius and aerated to create conditions for the propagation of thermophilic bacteria. A few heavy metal binding chemicals were also added.
The capsule rotated, mixing the contents, the microorganisms multiplied, and in a month the compost would be ready. According to the authors of the technology, as a result, everything is processed, including bones and the remains of drugs, such as antibiotics.
Spade claims that this technology is much more environmentally friendly than burial in the ground or cremation: the remains decompose quickly without releasing leachate into groundwater, there are no carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, as in crematoria.
The venture was widely publicized, and on May 21 this year, Washington State authorities signed a law authorizing compost disposal.
Tree instead of grave
Silicon Valley businessmen founded Better Place Forests three years ago to buy wood and sell the right to bury ashes of a cremated man under a tree. For a fee, the ash is mixed with chemicals to produce conventional fertilizer.
The first section was opened in the forest of Mendocino County, on the Pacific coast. Century sequoias grow there. Entrepreneurs believe that such a memorial complex is much more pleasant, environmentally friendly and durable than ordinary cemeteries. After all, sequoias live for 700 years.
There are enough arguments in favor of new methods of burial: lack of land for cemeteries and even columbaria in many countries and large cities, high cost of land, inconsistency of crematoria with current environmental standards. Nevertheless, funerary innovations hardly make their way even in Europe – the locomotive of the green movement.
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