On Human Composting: A Modest Proposal
In case you hadn’t heard, the legislators of Washington state have voted to permit human composting. This article explains how conventional burial of the dead is expensive and not eco-friendly. The eco-warriors claim even cremation uses too much fuel to burn the body. Composting, on the other hand, is a creative solution that is efficient and friendly to the environment.
What is composting?
It turns your loved one to mulch.
The company offering this service is called “Recompose.” The founder of Recompose, Katrina Spade, explained the process:
The company’s system is a souped-up version of natural microbial decomposition. “It is actually the same process happening on the forest floor as leaf litter, chipmunks and tree branches decompose and turn into topsoil,” Spade said.
The company’s service, which would include a funeral ceremony, will cost about $5,500, she said (more than the average cremation but less than burial in a casket). Microbes go to work within a large vessel, about eight feet tall and four feet wide, that fits a single body along with alfalfa, straw and wood chips. Over the course of 30 days, as temperatures in the vessel rise to 150 degrees, decomposition destroys the body, along with most pathogens and pharmaceuticals.
Just Say No
Human composting seems neat, efficient and clean. Turning grandma into compost for the roses in your backyard might sound good, but just say no.
Why? Because I have another solution. One more efficient and economical. It offers benefits not only to the environment, but to the greater good of society.
One of the biggest threats to Gaia? The methane produced by the huge number of cattle raised for beef consumption. We use an enormous amount of our arable land for meat animals. As the human population rises, the demands on the environment prove unsustainable.
Researchers have therefore been working tirelessly to discover economic and efficient alternatives to meat. Burger King is the latest burger joint to run trials with faux beef. Their “impossible burger” is engineered in a lab, but the process is expensive. Consumers are rightly worried about eating an artificial product of bio-tech. What’s really in that fake burger? Too many unknown factors for my taste. Cue the terrifying science fiction and health scare scenarios.
Compounding: Better Than Composting
There is a better solution. Instead of composting: compounding.
When someone passes away, strip off any prosthesis, pacemaker, or implant. After scalding to remove all hair, hang the “donor” long enough to age him (or her!) properly. Then the remains should be separated and processed. Compound this ground protein product with beef, pork or chicken to produce nutritious burgers and sausages.
We’d keep the compounding process respectful and dignified. It would also shift our traditions about death and dying into a more positive mode. There is really no reason for the grief and gloom traditionally associated with one’s passing. The end is simply the end.
We miss the ones who have passed, but we say goodbye to people all the time without a great show of emotion. Instead of a ceremony of great sadness (often artificial) we should face facts. And take the opportunity to celebrate the donor’s life. Compounding offers not only an efficient recycling of the person’s physical remains, but also the chance to re-think funerals.
We could replace a dull and morose religious service with a “memorial feast.” No need for the usual somber funeral home chapel, the dreary organ music, the lugubrious undertaker in an ill fitting suit, the flowers, the hushed tones and the gruesome open casket. Instead? A celebration in a local park with a pavilion and outdoor grills. There the gathered loved ones would conclude the short memorial time with a few drinks and a backyard barbecue. Leftover Donor Burgers or Donor Kebabs? Package them up and label them. Guests will take them home and store them in the freezer. Information memorial cards will go to guests. A year later? Email reminders to mark the anniversary of the loved one’s passing with another celebratory cookout.
Reducing Health Care Costs
Compounding would prove cost-effective and change our approach to funerals. But it could also provide a way forward in the constant search to reduce health care costs. As boomers reach the end of life, demands soar on the pension system and the senior care industry.
With fewer doctors and nurses available to care for the tsunami of elderly people, the quality of care will decline. Compounding will provide an efficient, thrifty solution. Forget the usual long, slow decline from private home to assisted living to nursing care to hospice. The government could simply mandate that at the age of 75, seniors move to a humane compounding center.
These compounds would provide short term care and a painless end of life solution. Then the individuals’ remains would rejoin the supply chain of America’s food retail industry.
Should we see increased demand, compounding could also cull our overcrowded prisons. Already set up as residential centers, the correctional institutions could become compounding facilities overnight. A final solution for the indigent, the homeless, addicts, the mentally ill and illegal immigrants would also appear.
As Americans we pride ourselves in finding practical, ingenious solutions to intractable problems. We are a nation of inventors and entrepreneurs. We appreciate no nonsense solutions, the practical plan and the bottom line.
I therefore propose compounding instead of composting as an easy, quick, even patriotic solution to our greatest social problems while providing an affordable raw material for our national meal: a hefty burger with all the trimmings.
Visit Dwight Longenecker’s blog, listen to his podcasts, browse his books and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com.