Crowded cities finally have a way to bury their dead sustainably

Despite the expenses and environmental problems that come with burying the dead in urban areas, most people still want their final resting place to be close to where they lived most of their life. But fulfilling that desire in cities is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Take Hong Kong’s public columbariums, for example.

These facilities, which store urns of cremated remains, have an average wait time of four years and are at maximum capacity. To address these challenges, alternative green burials are emerging. One approach that’s picking up steam is “human composting,” which uses microbes to efficiently break down corpses into the soil.

This summer, Washington State became the first to legalize the process, and the Seattle-based company Recompose (previously known as the Urban Death Project) plans to open a human composting facility by early 2021. By placing a corpse into a mixture of wood chips, weeds, straws, and grains, researchers have been able to decompose the body into the soil.

According to Recompose, choosing human composting instead of traditional burial or cremation saves one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions. The company says that family members would be allowed to take home approximately one cubic yard of soil produced by the process or donate it to the facility’s gardens. So rather than burying the dead in coffins made of harmful metals, plastics, and coatings, human composting allows a corpse to become soil that could be used to grow trees or plants in the city.

At a time where cities are pressed for space, this seems to be the sensible option of the future

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