Photo (c) Urban Death Project

Tomorrow is not just Halloween, it's also the Day of the Dead, perhaps a good day to contemplate how we want to manage our eventual departure from the land of the living.

Burial is becoming somewhat old hat. It's expensive and takes up a lot of space that could otherwise be used for condos, parking lots, or even nature preserves. Further, to be blunt, 100 or more pounds of valuable carbon-based material is locked away forever, doing nothing to nourish the world we leave behind.

Cremation is currently the most popular alernative to burial in the U.S. but, while less expensive, it's hardly environmentally beneficial. It sort of ranks up there with burning leaves. Besides the carbon discharged from the chimney, cremation burns up a lot of energy.

More natural

An emerging option in some parts of the country is "green burial" -- basically burial without a coffin or embalming. This returns valuable nutrients to the soil, doesn't interfere with drainage the way concrete burial vaults do, and lets the land be used for something else after a decent interval. 

A perhaps more radical version is "sky burial," where one is simply deposited on a remote hillside. This speeds up the process of recycling one's remains, since birds and animals move things along by picking the bones clean while ingesting nutritious protein.

For those who find this a little too natural, a Seattle group has come up with the latest "good death" innovation. It's called the Urban Death Project and is, when you get right down to it, an industrial-scale composting heap. 

Remains are placed at the top level of a three-story building at what's described as a "laying-in" ceremony. Nature takes it from there.

"Over the span of a few months, with the help of aerobic decomposition and microbial activity, the bodies decompose fully, leaving a rich compost," the group says on its website. The compost is then made available to local gardeners. 

"The Urban Death Project is not simply a system for turning our bodies into soil-building material. It is also a space for the contemplation of our place in the natural world, and a ritual to help us say goodbye to our loved ones by connecting us with the cycles of nature," the group says.

So far, the Urban Death Project is just that -- a project. Founder Katrina Spade, an architect and designer, is in the process of raising money to build the first compost tower.

If you live long enough, maybe it will be there when you need it.  

Share your Comments