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Urban Death Project aims to turn dead bodies into compost

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Tuesday, April 14, 2015, 1:58 AM

An Urban Death Project rendering shows the basic concept behind the group's proposal for human composting.Courtesy of Katrina Spade

An Urban Death Project rendering shows the basic concept behind the group’s proposal for human composting.

From dust you were made, and to dust you will return – hopefully to create some high-quality soil.

Seattle-based Urban Death Project founder Katrina Spade is leading a growing effort in support of a green alternative to caskets or cremation: human composting.

The architect and designer is working with a team of engineers and scientists on a process that would allow corpses to decompose into nutrient-rich fertilizer over a period of a few months, according to a Kickstarter fundraising page set up by the non-profit.

Spade, 37, proposes to set up a network of facilities where loved ones could bring their nitrogen-heavy deceased to rot away naturally in carbon-abundant piles composed of materials like wood chips and sawdust for roughly $ 2,500 per body, The New York Times reported.

A diagram from the Urban Death Project shows the natural process that would turn the human remains into fertilizer inside a so-called "core" at one of the group's proposed facilities.Courtesy of Katrina Spade

A diagram from the Urban Death Project shows the natural process that would turn the human remains into fertilizer inside a so-called “core” at one of the group’s proposed facilities.

With animal composting on farms as an existing model, Spade and her supporters are making the case that traditional end-of-life rituals aren’t sustainable. And friends and relatives, they argue, might well gain more satisfaction out of using human remains to “grow new life after we’ve died,” the Kickstarter page says.

Every year, Americans who bury relatives in coffins commit to the ground an amount of metal sufficient to construct a new Golden Gate Bridge, wood that could be used to build 1,800 single-family homes and an amount of carcinogenic embalming fluid adequate for filling eight Olympic-size pools, Spade estimates. Cremations emit 600 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually – the fossil fuel equivalent of 70,000 cars driving for a full year, she notes.

“In other words, the very last thing that most of us will do on this Earth is poison it,” Spade says in the Kickstarter video. “But the truth is our bodies are full of potential.”

The fundraising effort, which allows contributors to take home t-shirts that say “Future Tree” or “Compost Me,” had already garnered over $ 47,000 in contributions from 429 donations since starting on March 30 on Tuesday morning. The campaign’s $ 75,000 goal would complete the second stage of the group’s plan and lay the foundations for opening the first human composting facility in Seattle, the site says.

Spade’s ideas picked up fuel when she won a 2014 climate fellowship from Echoing Green, a social change seed-funding foundation, and her organization is currently working with Western Carolina University’s Forensic Osteology Research Station on a study of the composting process, according to the Urban Death Project’s website.

With an eye toward the sensitivities surrounding the issue, she told BBC News that she would restrict funeral parties to no more than two so-called “laying-in ceremonies” per day at each facility and see that loved ones would be able to say goodbye in the manner of their choosing.

A rendering of an Urban Death Project facility displays the outside of the three-story building equipped both for the bodies' decomposition and for funeral rites of whatever faiths or spiritual ideals desired by loved ones.Courtesy of Katrina Spade

A rendering of an Urban Death Project facility displays the outside of the three-story building equipped both for the bodies’ decomposition and for funeral rites of whatever faiths or spiritual ideals desired by loved ones.

“People like to create and tweak their own rituals, so I love the idea that we could create a framework for ritual that isn’t set in stone, but gives someone a space for ritual,” she said.

Follow on Twitter @tobysalkc

tsalinger@nydailynews.com


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