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Green Burial /Human Composting

 
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A previous article posted in this forum talks about a recent bill passed in Washington state legalizing human composting—also known as “liquid cremation.” According to e article the process turns human remains into soil. It may be a bit uncomfortable, but I'd love to hear more about the actual process of human composting if Elizabeth knows about it.
 
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Cory Collins wrote:A previous article posted in this forum talks about a recent bill passed in Washington state legalizing human composting—also known as “liquid cremation.” According to e article the process turns human remains into soil. It may be a bit uncomfortable, but I'd love to hear more about the actual process of human composting if Elizabeth knows about it.



Welcome, Elizabeth Fournier, to the permies.com forums. Glad to have someone as knowledgeable as you around!

I'm interested in how the "liquid burial" concept will work in a desert rangeland setting.

Also, how does human composting affect the surrounding plant-life (It's probably in the book, which I haven't yet read).
 
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Liquid cremation is certainly picking up steam in the United States lately. I'm no expert, but the gist of the process is that a body is soaked in a lye bath under high heat and pressure for several hours, and what comes out is bones and a relatively harmless liquid concoction that goes down the drain. I'm not sure "human composting" is the most accurate phrase for the process—probably "human liquefaction" is closer, even if "liquefaction" is a slightly uncomfortable word.

I'd be interested to hear more opinions on it. It sounds like it is a significant improvement over traditional cremation. I suspect that natural burials are still a much better option in terms of impact, but cremation serves some practical concerns that are especially relevant to those of us living in crowded cities. I do wonder if the rising popularity of liquid cremation relative to other alternative burial methods is due to Americans' squeamishness around death and the fact that it fits better with the clinical approach to burial that we are so hellbent on maintaining. Pack the body off to the mortician, don't ask about what happens there, get back some sterile dust in an urn…
 
Ian Young
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Mark Kissinger wrote:I'm interested in how the "liquid burial" concept will work in a desert rangeland setting.



According to this article, liquid cremation uses a significant amount of water but not enough that we should let that stop it from being used:

One worry might be amount of water used in the process—about 300 gallons per corpse. Gloria says this might be a consideration during droughts but is otherwise a drop in the bucket. “If every Californian who died in one year used water cremation, it would amount to 64 million gallons of water in that year,” he says. “One L.A. [water] treatment plant uses more than 500 million gallons in a day.”



Of course, my feeling is that if you're in a sparsely inhabited desert rangeland, we should probably make laws that allow you to leave a body out in a quiet place in the land and let scavengers take care of it. Nothing greener or more sustainable (or cheaper) than letting nature do the recycling.
 
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Ian Young wrote:Of course, my feeling is that if you're in a sparsely inhabited desert rangeland, we should probably make laws that allow you to leave a body out in a quiet place in the land and let scavengers take care of it. Nothing greener or more sustainable (or cheaper) than letting nature do the recycling.



Amen to that!  I have read the article on liquid cremation, or human liquification, or human composting, or whatever you want to call it.  While I would be willing to concede that it is likely an improvement over conventional embalming or incineration, I don't see that there is much here to get excited about.  Perhaps for people needing to be buried in dense urban areas, I get it.  I can see the inherent problems in dedicating ever-increasing amounts of open land to housing the dead in places where overcrowding and sky-high real estate prices are already issues.

But otherwise, I really don't understand why we need some technological innovation to dispose of corpses cleanly (environmentally speaking).  Chuck a body into a hole in the ground, and it will compost quite nicely on its own.  Boom, done!

What we need is a revision in the laws that have been built up to protect various facets of the burial industry, not spiffy new technology.  That would allow people to get back to basics, if that is indeed what they are personally comfortable with.  I suspect that, if we allowed them to do so once again, a surprising number of people would elect to be placed in a pine box in the ground in back of the old church and let nature take its course.  I know I would.  No fuss, no technology, and minimal expense.

There would still of course be one stumbling block to overcome: our obsession with open-casket funeral services, necessitating embalming in the first place.  That has never made much sense to me, but I guess it works for other people.  Still, all it would take is a cultural shift.  Many religions around the world - Judaism comes to mind - already incorporate the practical need for a speedy burial into their traditions.  At one point, practicality demanded everyone to observe such practices.  Why couldn't we get back to that?
 
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Matthew Nistico wrote:
What we need is a revision in the laws that have been built up to protect various facets of the burial industry,



In the US, most burial practices are determined by mortuaries, not by law.  Only in rare cases is embalming legally required.  Nor is a casket, burial vault, rubber casket seal, etc.  These practices are pushed by the conventional mortuary industry in order to make their business more lucrative.

https://funerals.org/what-you-should-know-about-embalming/
 
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I don't think the e article you read is correct. The companies in Washington aren't doing liquid cremation. They are composting. With wood chips, alfalfa, and straw to turn your body into 2 wheelbarrows of soil.


Here is a video that discusses it.
 
Ian Young
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Ah, I think we've accidentally conflated two very different methods of body "disposition" because the bill in Washington legalized both of them. There's liquid cremation aka alkaline hydrolysis, and then there's human composting, which is quite literally composting.

Exciting to hear that composting is making inroads in the US. As that video mentions, it offers the benefits of natural burial but is more practical for dense urban areas. Sounds like they give the finished material back to the family, which is great. You can have an urn if you'd like, or better yet you can plant and fertilize a tree to remember your loved one.
 
Devin Lavign
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Ian Young wrote:Ah, I think we've accidentally conflated two very different methods of body "disposition" because the bill in Washington legalized both of them. There's liquid cremation aka alkaline hydrolysis, and then there's human composting, which is quite literally composting.



I just looked into it, and yep you are right. Though no one here seems to be talking about the liquid cremation, which might be why I didn't even know that was part of the bill. All interest seems to be for the actual compost process. Which I do have to say is exciting.

Especially since even though I have a 40 acre homestead, the burial laws here say you have to have an official cemetery run by a corporation to be buried, which makes home burial a bit difficult. So even though this is being sold as a way for urban folks to have a natural burial, for me it might make sense to do so I can have my remains put back into my property.
 
Matthew Nistico
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Tyler Ludens wrote:In the US, most burial practices are determined by mortuaries, not by law...

https://funerals.org/what-you-should-know-about-embalming/



Thanks for posting that link.  Very informative.  Good to know that embalming is not mandated by any laws (except in rare cases).  Still, there are other areas where local government dictates the terms of burial.  Case in point:

Devin Lavign wrote:...even though I have a 40 acre homestead, the burial laws here say you have to have an official cemetery run by a corporation to be buried, which makes home burial a bit difficult...



I was also about to repeat the notion that some jurisdictions require a body be placed in a coffin prior to cremation.  However, based on the content of this thread, I decided to Google it first.  Turns out that most US laws only specify an "alternative container," meaning that funeral homes do not in fact get a legal mandate to sell you a coffin just to be cremated.  There are still practical necessities involved with transporting a body from place to place, so a rigid cardboard of plywood box is often used instead. This is also good to know.
 
Tyler Ludens
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There are definitely laws about how bodies are to be handled.  These laws can be searched online, so as not to be a mystery.

For Texas:  https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/HS/htm/HS.711.htm
 
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1st time I read about this, and I have to look for it in Europe!

I find it crazy to use Wood for a box or for burning. Or petrol, any energy.

I would also suggest that if there is a danger in letting nature do its job as for wild animals, it means we are too many people on earth per square mile…

Where I live, near the sea, I would dream even if illegal that people would weight me down for fish food and report I suicided!

Animals have given me their flesh, and I want to give mine back to earth!
 
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In our family we  were shocked a year ago when one of my wife's big brothers (a mere five years older than me) was felled on holiday, by an ultimately fatal heart attack. Weeks later his body arrived back from abroad in ,a zinc lined box embalmed of course as required by the international rules  -- written, I presume by the industry.

The funeral industry is very cunning, with a mastery of softly selling the appearance of life via embalming and makeup. when I go I want a closed coffin funeral with a mushroom suit if legal and definitely no embalming etc unless I am abroad when I want to be buried where I die or if cheaper cremated and my ashes returned
 
Matthew Nistico
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Seosamh Devine wrote:In our family we  were shocked a year ago when one of my wife's big brothers (a mere five years older than me) was felled on holiday, by an ultimately fatal heart attack. Weeks later his body arrived back from abroad in ,a zinc lined box embalmed of course as required by the international rules  -- written, I presume by the industry.



I'm hardly an expert on public health policy, but I suspect that if there is any situation in which embalming and sealed caskets and such are actually a good idea it is probably when you have a body that requires shipping long distances after long delays.  That much seems reasonable.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Bodies can be refrigerated but I expect embalming is more typical because easier and probably cheaper.  Airplanes that don't have refrigeration could transport a body if embalmed, so that's probably why they have that rule.

"No human body may be held in any place or be in transit more than 24 hours after death and pending final disposition unless either maintained at a temperature within the range of 34 degrees - 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or is embalmed by a licensed embalmer in a manner approved by the Texas Funeral Service Commission, or by an embalmer licensed to practice in the state where death occurred or is encased in a container which insures against seepage of fluid and the escape of offensive odors."

https://texreg.sos.state.tx.us/public/readtac$ext.TacPage?sl=R&app=9&p_dir=&p_rloc=&p_tloc=&p_ploc=&pg=1&p_tac=&ti=25&pt=1&ch=181&rl=4
 
Xisca Nicolas
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In the US they talk about making compost in 1 month which I found very fast...

I Europe I have found that they talk about a 1 year process.
 
Devin Lavign
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Xisca Nicolas wrote:In the US they talk about making compost in 1 month which I found very fast...

I Europe I have found that they talk about a 1 year process.



The company in WA doing composting burial, says it can be as fast as 2 weeks to compost a body. That is pretty fast for sure.
 
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