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Human compost

 
gardener
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I was just reading about several states that have legalized human composting as an alternative to burial or cremation.  It's interesting and compelling.  It reduces the carbon footprint, and is supposed to be a much more earth friendly way to go.
For the most part if I don't think of the actual process I think it's a interesting idea.  Especially since I have the ashes to my mom and dad, and have never known what to do with them.  For me personally I feel they are with me in my heart and memories, I don't care to have a box of ash on my mantle, but it seems disrespectful to dump them, so they are in a closet.  Which isn't respectful either.  
I do wonder about diseases.  If say a person has a spreadable disease will it survive the composting process? What about things like cancer?  Mushrooms clean many chemicals from the soil, I wonder if they would do the same for disease?
It's not legal in California yet, but they are working on it.  I think if it becomes an option I will seriously consider it. My garden is where I find peace and joy, so ending up adding to the earth, instead of taking up space in the ground, or ash in my kids closet, make sense to me.
I'm interested to know what you think, and if you would consider it.
I'm interested in what permies people think. I would ask respectfully to remember this is in the compost forum not cider press, so we all to keep it inclusive for everyone.  
 
steward
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Hi, Jen

We had a book review on that subject that you might be interested in:

https://permies.com/wiki/116034/Green-Burial-Guidebook-Elizabeth-Fournier

And also one of our members has created Green Cemetary, and this thread has some great videos on the subject that might interest you:

https://permies.com/t/87862/ungarbage/Green-Family-Cemetery

This is a subject that I am very interested in!
 
pollinator
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Hi Jen.

I've always thought burial alternatives to being turned into a toxic soap encased in concrete were fascinating.

I feel that what matters is being comfortable with the process. It's also sometimes useful for me to remember that funereal rites and ceremony are for those left behind, not for the deceased.

My preferred method right now is a compost-in-place, buried relatively shallowly at the bend of a river or stream just above the flood plain, clothed in natural textiles packed with inoculated mushroom growth media, with a tree guild, probably black walnut, but we'll see how I feel over time, placed strategically all around my body. I would be oriented with my head pointing north, and so the tree and shrub guild would start with a sprouted walnut in my mouth, probably hazels under my arms, mulberries in my navel and to either side of my hips, and so on. All would be encased in a coffin basket woven of stripped willow branches. A shallow hugelbeet would be placed atop, planted with a soil-building, undergrowth-supporting guild, until the trees and shrubs pushed their way up.

I had also toyed with the concept of having medicinal herbs grown atop me, such that I could become medicine and help people. I haven't yet dismissed it, but it would have to be done carefully.

If I were concerned about being contaminated, I would probably want myself pyrolised in a human-sized retort, and turned into biochar. I wonder how much detail could be retained if the pyrolysis was controlled enough, and completely absent oxygen within the retort.

I feel that some people might object to the concept of being mixed around. I would suggest that any approach that leaves the body intact as it's processed into soil might be far more acceptable to people than something you'd do with a home compost pile.

Were I figuring out a way to do this on a large scale, I feel that I would probably maintain the appearance of in-ground burials. It could even be carried out in the aforementioned cement vaults. It would simply be necessary to forgo any preservation save refrigeration, and to ensure that there's adequate airflow and ingress-egress for the appropriate insect species after burial. It could also be possible to seed the deceased with eggs or nursery packets of the insect decomposers, providing enough airflow, and yet design the casket to keep the insects from escaping, ensuring all biomass generated by the decomposition of the body stays within the casket, which could be retrieved down the road, when nothing would remain but insect frass, carcasses, and the bones of the deceased.

Frass and insect carcasses could be composted, or the whole casket could function as a retort for the pyrolysis of the contents. That way, the body could remain largely intact, yet be completely cleansed of dangerous volatiles. Pyrolised remains could be planted in soil as they were, deep enough for digging or plowing to not disturb them, in a traditional pose of repose, no less.

Whatever it takes to keep farmland from being converted slowly to crypt space filled with soap mummies.

-CK
 
gardener
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If you want to both compost and still provide a learning opportunity to students of forensic science, The Body Farm in Knoxville Tennessee ( https://fac.utk.edu/ ) takes donations of cadavers and they are placed in various situations in the secure site and left to decompose, so that students can learn what happens and then have a better knowledge when on a case.
 
master steward
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One of the more recent editions of the Humanure Handbook covers this topic. Ideally, body composting (human and animal) needs to be done at the surface with lots of absorbent carbon under and around it. Anything that involves burning as a first step takes huge amounts of energy - be  it wood pyres or fossil fuels, as humans really are mostly water. Anything that lets that water leave naturally either into the air or into something like sawdust, rather than carrying possible pathogens down into the ground water, the better (the same reason that modern Humanure systems focus on above ground composting - it's been shown to be safer).
Toxins need to be examined on a case-by-case basis. I had been unaware that one of the common drugs given to dogs as part of "putting them down" is *highly* toxic and long lasting in soil. Certainly getting microbes and mushrooms involved will help, but there are certainly some bodies (chemotherapy and radiation therapy for two) that I would be worried about composting.

Done well, things I've read seem to imply that nothing much is left. However, looking in wilderness situations, it takes a long time +/- hungry animals for the bones to disappear. Bones need high heat to burn, but I know that I can biochar chicken bones in my wood stove.

And yes - people's personal thoughts can't be ignored. Personally, I'd love to turn into healthy soil when I die. To me, I'm totally cool with rebirth as helpful chemicals/compounds feeding a tree. Hopefully, my attitude will rub off on others?
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Thank you Ann. Very interesting.  I learned a lot.  What I read was a similar concept, but is an actual compost process.  The green burial sounds less intense, and maybe easier for the loved ones to accept.  I'm glad I stumbled on to this.  These options appeal to me a great deal more than the traditional options.
 
Anne Miller
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Jen, you are right though to me it is how a person visualizes something.

Composting happens in many different ways, even here on permies.

Some folks have a compost pile on top of the ground while others dig a trench and bury their compost.

It is just how a person visualizes what is taking place.

I am pretty sure I saw the Body Farm or something very similar on an episode of Criminal Minds.  What I saw did not remind me of composting at all. I think it is decomposition.

That too may be a different concept.

It is the difference between compost and decomposition. From Mr google: compost is the decayed remains of organic matter that has rotted into a natural fertilizer while decomposition is a biological process through which organic material is reduced to eg compost.

So I feel they are all green alternatives whether composting, burial, or decomposing.

I feel it is good for folks to learn that there are alternatives available and that human composting is being recognized by different states.

I don't read the news so most of what I learn is here on permies. So this is another reason I appreciate you bringing this subject up.
 
pioneer
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When I die, I want to be buried in a willow basket six feet under in a pine forest. Maybe with an oak tree on my grave. A low-tannin oak would be best.
 
pollinator
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Ooo this is a fascinating thread. Why can’t we plant forests instead of tombstones? Each burial plot can have a little sign with the persons details, so there will still be something to commemorate the person besides the tree. There can be a burial service, just as there would be with traditional burial, only in a biodegradable container. In a way, it’s reincarnation. Their human life will be over, but their old body now fuels the life of a tree which will stand for centuries (potentially) in the deceased person’s honour.

I look at it as a great way both of commemorating life and helping the planet. It’s not just dead space filled with tombstones anymore, it’s a living, breathing forest which produces more oxygen for us all, plus gives a peaceful and healing environment for relatives to come and visit.
 
pollinator
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We buried some of my grandson's ashes under a memorial tree. I'm not opposed to a green burial but I would want it to be on our property and our property is so rocky. The current plan for most of the family is cremation and more memorial trees or shrubs. My father wants a wisteria, my mother a climbing rose. I just don't want anyone to be elsewhere. I'm not fond of cemeteries.
 
pollinator
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My grandma wants us to grow P. cubensis on her ashes and take one last trip as a family. I want a Viking ship burial with all details correct because it's part of my personality to mess with people and I want some archaeologists around the year 3000 CE to dig me up and wonder how a viking made it to Ohio.
 
Heather Gardener
pollinator
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A related link just surfaced on my YouTube home page. I swear, that algorithm knows everything lol 😂



Not sure if you’ll see the thumbnail, it’s a tour of a human composting facility.

 
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