Saturday, January 20, 2007

Dust to Dust (to Compost).

I saw something really interesting in the latest issue of The Ecologist, which came this morning. Apparently some folks in Sweden are working on a new, eco-friendly way of dealing with dead bodies. It's called promession. This means cooling the body in liquid nitrogen to a point where it is so brittle that when it is vibrated it turns to dust. The water is then evaporated out of it and any metal (like mercury from fillings) removed and what is left goes into a three-feet square, biodegradable box, which can be buried in a very shallow grave where it can decompose aerobically and become part of the topsoil within 6-12 months.
Sounds like a great idea.
I read more about it on the Internet. They have been trying it out with dead pigs, and it works a treat. So very soon it will be possible to do it with humans. But I couldn't find the answer to the main question I wanted to ask. Which was: in that case, do I really need a grave at all?
Whenever we have talked about funeral options, Sky has always said "Please just chuck me on the compost heap." He thinks it is awful that human beings, unlike other creatures, deny their bodies to the topsoil.
Obviously, since most of us these days live in cities, it would not be practical for everyone simply to lie wherever they fell, and there aren't enough vultures and carrion crows for us to have 'sky funerals', so burial or burning have always been our main methods of disposal. That is recycling too, of course, but in the case of traditional burial it is a much longer-term kind, since bodies way down in the subsoil rot anaerobically and very slowly, (which can create pollution problems with groundwater) and cremation increases carbon pollution.
With this new promession technology, if all that is left of us is a box of dry powder which will decompose easily when put in the soil, would it not be possible to do exactly what Sky is asking for and either mix it in with compost or use it as mulch in an orchard or field? I think that would be even better than having a shallow grave in a woodland burial site.
A town council in the Midlands is considering adopting the new technology when it is ready, and they invite questions on their website, so I submitted mine today.
I'll let you know what they say.


Patty said...

In the Himalayas, it is seen as a gift, the ultimate gift at the end of ones life to be placed in the open on a hilltop to be eaten by the birds of prey. To give nourishment. To not be attatched to the physical body now empty of ones soul. In our western culture that is so horrific a thought, yet, what is our body but a vessel, outgrown through time and it should be returned to the earth, simply. I have often said, just stick me in our ground and let me help the plants grow. So I am with you all the way on this one.

thewriterslife said...

Wow...interesting. In the last year, I decided to be cremated and my ashes thrown into the forests of the Smoky Mountains...the thought of being burned doesn't sound particularly pleasant, but I guess I wouldn't feel a thing. I don't want to be buried because the thought of my body being in some box under ground horrifies me. Again, I won't be alive to notice, but while I'm still alive, I'm tossing around these possibilities. I haven't heard of what you've mentioned but it does sound like another possibility. By the way, I'm Dorothy from The Writer's Life and am going to place your banner on my site. I love you blog, btw, and will be back again! ;o)

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

Promession is a very interesting possibility. Besides maing poluting smoke, the ashes and ground up bones are messy to spread. Too much ach in one place retards natural growth of plants.

Kathryn said...

I love the Promession idea. I have been following their efforts to bring the technology to the US. Cheers, Katrina

Anonymous said...

To be turned to compost by the vibration of sound (Promession's first idea...)- what a blessing to all! Or, perhaps, true "cold comfort." I'd like to join others to start this process in Northern California: including reclaiming or improving land; like feeding the redwoods who so need nitrogen.