How Hospices Can Support Families Seeking ‘Green’ Burials

By Holly Vossel

Hospices can assist terminally ill patients and their families who have questions about “green” burial options by connecting them with services like death doulas or by educating staff on those practices.

Interest in natural or green funeral and burial options has been growing year-over-year, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). Around 60.5% of respondents in a NFDA 2022 consumer awareness and preferences survey indicated that they would be interested in exploring natural funeral options, a rise from 55.7% in 2021.

Respondents cited cost savings and potential environmental benefits as leading drivers of their interest.

Demand for natural burials also has grown among hospice patients and their families, according to Lee Webster, director of New Hampshire Funeral Resources, Education & Advocacy.

“I’ve definitely seen a growing trend of natural burials really appealing to a lot of people who are on hospice,” Webster told Hospice News. “A lot of people on hospice services want to run the whole spectrum of that holistic care and tend to be more open to the idea. They are finding a different way to do the disposition, recognizing that natural burials are less expensive than the traditional funeral burial or cremation services most of the time.”

Webster has co-founded organizations such as the National End-of-Life Doula Alliance (NEDA), the Conservation Burial Alliance and the Funeral.org partnership. Additionally, she has served in leadership positions at the National Home Funeral Alliance and the Green Burial Council.

Natural burials are another way for families to take care of the dying in “the least invasive way possible,” according to Webster. “Much like hospice, it’s a continuum of creating a seamless transition to death” she said.

Though natural burials represent roughly 5% of all funerals nationwide, nearly three-quarters (72%) of cemetery operators have reported increased demand for these services, according to NFDA.

The global green funeral market reached $571.54 million in 2021 and is anticipated to reach an 8.7% growth rate by 2030, according to 2022 projections from Emergen Research.

As more hospices partner with death doulas, they can leverage those collaborations to help families and staff understand the four pillars that define a natural burial, Webster said. Death doulas also can help hospices connect families with natural burial resources and services.

One pillar is the use of biodegradable materials or containers that are designed to reduce carbon emissions and deforestation associated with traditional caskets made of wood, plastic and cement mixtures.

The other three pillars include the use of natural, noninvasive preservation methods instead of chemical embalming practices; avoiding the use of vaults and completing burials at 3 ½ to 4 feet.

Patients and families seeking these also need to understand state laws and limitations around natural burial methodologies.

Human composting, for example, is only legal in six states, according Lauren Carroll, co-one of the founders of Deathwives, a death doula provider. Additionally, water cremation is only available in 26 states, she added.

Death doulas can help expand hospices’ knowledge around their local natural burial options that they otherwise might not have built into their staff education and training, Carroll said.

“[The] knowledge aspect of understanding that comes from death doulas isn’t something a hospice necessarily has a place for in its staff education,” Carroll told Hospice News. “That education aspect is the biggest part of communicating all these different burial and funeral options to families so they have a better understanding.”

Hospices can help the family by preparing the necessary documentation bereaved families will need to arrange a natural burial, according to Webster.

“Each state has different requirements about when death certificates need to be filed and when families are able to bathe, dress and prepare their loved one for a natural burial,” Webster said. “Another important thing to know is that the hospice is not liable for anything that the family does with the body after they’ve signed that death certificate.”

Complete Article HERE!

Eight Green Burial Options

— Some Are Greener Than Others

Innovation and interest in green burial practices are growing fast in the U.S. fed by concerns about the environmental impact of modern burial and cremation. 60.5% of Americans are interested in eco-friendly burial choices according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Yet most people know little about their green burial options.

By

  • Green burial is a way to care for the dead without damaging the earth.
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    Perhaps the greenest option is a simple, natural burial.
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    Other green options include human body composting, tree pod burial, biodegradable urns, water cremation, Tibetan sky burial, and sea burial.
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    Not all countries or states allow each option. Knowing your choices empowers you to choose a deathcare practice that matches your personal values.

What is green burial?

According to the Green Burial Council (GBC), green burials care for the dead by restoring and conserving natural resources and habitats, reducing carbon emissions, and protecting mortuary workers from embalming toxins.

As more Americans notice problems with the funeral industry, many are jumping on the green burial movement’s bandwagon.

In lacquered caskets and cement vaults, we currently bury our dead using an estimated 1.6 million tons of concrete, over 64,500 tons of steel, and four million gallons of toxic embalming fluid every year.

Meanwhile, fire cremation uses about 30 gallons of fuel to cremate one body – a deep carbon footprint.

In urban areas, cemeteries occupy precious space while urban dwellers and city planners need land for new housing.

These practices injure the earth and separate us from nature as if dead bodies poison the ground. Green burial advocates say death nourishes the earth with the right deathcare practices.

Green cemeteries certified by the GBC do not allow toxic embalming, vaults, non-biodegradable products, herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. They encourage sustainable management practices, land conservation sites, and creative and natural ways to mark graves.

Some green burial options are greener than others. Know your choices before you plan your final legacy.

Natural burial: let earth do the work

Perhaps the greenest option is a simple natural burial, a return to the way many of our ancestors were buried.

Natural burial uses only biodegradable products to bury the deceased. Families choose simple shrouds and earth-friendly caskets. You can even be buried without a casket and wrapped only in the shroud.

No cement or plastic vaults are installed into the ground for natural burials. Without vaults, holes for the deceased are shallower, about 3-4 feet deep, disrupting less soil.

Natural burial lets the earth do its genius work transforming the human body into rich, healthy soil to nourish the ground, which feeds plants and animals. A green burial saves the earth from toxins and replenishes healthy, organism-rich soil through organic decomposition.

Modern American embalming started when the bodies of Civil War soldiers were returned to their loved ones far from the battlefield. Caretakers preserved the bodies so loved ones could see them one last time.

Today, morticians embalm bodies primarily for funeral viewings, a fading practice in America. Without viewings, preserving the body is rarely needed.

For those who do want a funeral viewing, however, there are green alternatives. Bodies can be kept cold at a funeral home for days to months while waiting for a funeral. Green embalming fluids are another option. The GBC certifies four green and effective products to preserve loved ones.

If you can bury the body within 48 hours, you can usually hold a viewing without refrigeration or preservation. Some families today cleanse and prepare the bodies of their loved ones and keep them in the home for viewing and last visits from friends and family.

Today’s median cost of burials with viewing ceremonies is $7848, not including cement vaults and headstones. Green burial costs an average of $2000-$3000. Some states allow natural burials in places other than cemeteries, often lowering the cost even further.

You can also donate your body to forensic science and education. Scientists bury your body naturally in “body farms” and study the decay. For body donation, you don’t have to pay burial costs, but you may need to pay transportation costs todeliver the body.

Burial laws differ from state to state. To customize your burial as much as possible, read your state’s laws and find a local funeral home offering natural burial.

Body compost: a faster decomposition

Natural Organic Reduction (NOR), also called human composting is a new and innovative death care option. Like natural burial, it transforms the human body into rich, living soil but at a much faster rate of 30-45 days.

Washington state was the first state to legalize human body composting. Since then, Colorado, California, Vermont, and Oregon also legalized it.

The NOR process begins by wrapping the body in a biodegradable cloth and cradling it into a vessel, usually made of steel. Under and over the body is a blanket and bed of organic matter like alfalfa, wood chips, straw, and wildflowers.

For about 30-45 days, funeral staff tend to the body and vessel. During the process, the temperature inside the container reaches about 140°, creating the prime environment for microbes to transform the body into soil.

When the flesh is decomposed, bones and teeth remain. They are ground – just like cremation – and returned to the soil.

Medical devices, metal fillings, and implants also remain. Funeral staff carefully separate these items and often recycle them.

Loved ones can take home some or all of the composted soil to spread as a memorial in gardens or around trees. Some people choose to donate the soil to local land restoration projects.

The cost of composting your body is comparable to current burial costs. It can range from $3500 to $8000 depending on the company and the services rendered.

Manufacturing, distribution, and building is still required to develop composting sites. NOR doesn’t completely reduce your carbon footprint, but it’s better than current burial and cremation practices. It feeds the earth while leaving a lasting green legacy.

Tree pod burial: become a tree

In 2016, a fascinating new idea hit the deathcare industry. Two Italian designers, Adriano Del Ferro and Francesco D’Angelo, unveiled their dream of burying bodies under a tree seedling. They call the concept Capsula Mundi, a cocoon tree pod burial.

In a meaningful design reminiscent of new birth, the body is wrapped in a natural fiber shroud and placed into an egg-shaped capsule. The womb-like vessel is lowered into the ground, and a tree is planted directly over it.

As the body decays and transforms into healthy soil, it nourishes the tree. Some consider the process a physical transformation into the tree – a rebirth in the cycle of life.

The concept is still developing, but the vision is to plant the cocoons in restoration and conservation areas. Rather than visiting a tombstone, loved ones can visit the tree using GPS coordinates of the burial site.

Green critics say burial in a tree pod disturbs more earth by requiring deeper holes. In addition, even though the pod is biodegradable, manufacturing, storing, and shipping the pods increase the carbon footprint.

With such a new idea, cocoon tree pod burial cost is unknown. Del Ferro and D’Angelo estimate it will be cheaper than a traditional burial in the United States.

Biodegradable urns: ashes to trees

While we wait for tree pods to hit the market, companies offer biodegradable urns as another novel option.

Innovators designed the urns to memorialize ashes in an eco-friendly way. Scattering or burying cremated remains isn’t great for the earth. While the ashes aren’t highly toxic, they have a high pH level. This increases the alkalinity of nearby soil. Cremated remains are also high in sodium levels.

To plant the urn, the ashes are placed first in the bottom. An additive to balance pH is placed on top of the ashes. Next, the roots of a young tree are set into the urn and surrounded with planting soil. The urn is planted directly into the ground, where a living memorial grows for loved ones to visit.

Always check your state’s rules on burying cremated remains before choosing your planting site. Prices of living urns with trees vary from $100-$370.

Water cremation: a tenth of the carbon footprint

Water cremation isn’t as new as you might think. Some universities in the U.S. have used the process with donated bodies since the mid-90s. The Mayo Clinic has used the process since 2006.

Water cremation advocates say it leaves only a tenth of the carbon footprint compared to fire cremation. The body gently decomposes with water and a small amount of potassium hydroxide. Scientifically known as alkaline hydrolysis, the process takes around 16 hours.

The body is first placed into a large stainless-steel cylinder. The water solution then passes around the body at a near-boiling temperature. Some systems process the body quicker using higher temperatures up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Soon the body is dissolved and transformed into a liquid of amino acids, salts, peptides, sugars, and soap. Like flame cremation and human composting, the bones are ground into a fine powder and returned as “ashes” to loved ones.

Surprisingly, the liquid is so clean and altered that the solution can safely drain into the sewer system. Alkaline hydrolysis breaks down environmental pollutants in the body like drugs and embalming fluid. Waste managers say the process even improves their systems because the liquid feeds the bacteria that decompose sewage.

Water cremation uses much less energy than fire cremation. It runs on electricity instead of fossil fuels and releases no greenhouse gases, unlike open air fire cremation which is allowed only in Colorado state as of 2022.

However, alkaline hydrolysis isn’t purely green. 80 gallons of water are used to process one body. Manufacturing, storing, and distributing the machines also leaves a carbon footprint.

In the U.S., more than 20 states allow alkaline hydrolysis as a burial option, and more than 80 machines will be in operation by the end of 2022. The cost typically starts around $2000.

Mushroom suit: not as great as it seems

In 2011, artist Jae Rhim Lee presented an alluring idea to a fascinated TED audience: a burial suit woven with fungi to hasten the decomposition process. She argued natural burial doesn’t thoroughly break down normal human toxins.

Despite the great idea, her science was unfounded. Nature’s process is brilliant at transforming the many toxins hidden in the human body before they leach into the earth.

Naturally, the body’s own bacteria are the first organisms to start decomposition. Fungi from the earth join the process later. Adding them to a burial shroud doesn’t necessarily speed up the process.

Currently, production of the $1500 mushroom suit has stopped, and whether it will start again is unknown.

Sea burial: possibly eco-friendly

Sea burial is still practiced around the globe. In 2020, 2544 sea burials were permitted by the Environmental Protection Agency, the sole regulator of burial at sea. However, whether sea burials are eco-friendly isn’t a highly discussed topic.

The EPA allows only biodegradable items to be used, except metal to ensure the body sinks adequately. They recommend a metal chain connected to a body or a metal casket drilled with holes for rapid sinking.

Casting metal into the sea isn’t the only questionable issue. The EPA requires bodies to be buried at least three nautical miles offshore and in waters up to 1800 feet deep for certain locations. For some, this requires a fair amount of fossil fuel to travel to an authorized site.

As for scattering cremated remains, according to the EPA, you can spread them on a non-windy day or use a biodegradable, sea-friendly urn. There is no sea depth requirement for scattering cremated remains. Still, the scattering must also take place three nautical miles offshore.

If burial at sea holds deep meaning for you and you seek earth-friendly burial options, a green sea burial is possible with a little creativity and research.

Tibetan sky burial: let the animals feast

Tibetan sky burials are not permitted in the U.S. even though they’re largely gentle to the earth.

Sky burials are practiced by Tibetan Buddhists to connect the body back to one of the four elements: Air. The bodies are laid in the open air for vultures and other animals to consume.

Traditional Tibetans believe a dead body is an empty vessel best used to nourish animals. The Tibetans call the ritual ‘jhator’, but it can also be called a bird burial or celestial burial.

Final thoughts

Green burial options are scientifically fascinating, but they’re not always as green as you may think. Still, they’re a great way to customize your burial to your beliefs, ethics, and spirituality. Personalizing your death care plans increases your peace with dying.

To leave a green legacy, first decide what provides meaning to your life now. Combine those meaningful values with your environmental concerns and apply them to your death plans. Find products and resources to match your ethics and check your state’s burial laws.

Once you’ve made your death care plans, update your advance directives and inform your loved ones and health proxy.

Complete Article HERE!

Jewish law forbids human composting, but for some Jews it’s the way to go

Jewish law forbids human composting, but for some Jews it’s the way to go

Before she died in May 2022, Anne Lang told her daughter Zoe Lang, right, that she wanted her remains composted.

By Stewart Ain

New York could soon become the sixth state to legalize the composting of dead people, a practice prohibited by Jewish law, but one which a small but growing number of American Jews have come to embrace.

Axios has called it “the hot new thing in death care.” For proponents, human composting aligns with an ecological mindset that sees human beings as part of nature, obligated to care for the Earth even after they die.

A shrouded mannequin lies near a composting vessel at Recompose, a Seatte funeral home specializing in human composting in October 2022.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has until Dec. 31 to sign a legalization bill into law. She has not yet tipped her hand on the measure, which passed both houses of the legislature easily. Several Jewish lawmakers voted for it.

Traditional Jewish burial, which calls for plain wood coffins, is considered relatively green. But human composting is touted as one of the greenest options available — there are no coffins to bury or bodies to burn.

Orthodox Jewish rabbis, however, hold that halacha, or Jewish law, clearly forbids human composting, for many of the same reasons it forbids cremation, which has overtaken traditional burial in the U.S. as the most popular option for American families after the death of a relative.

Still, Jews are beginning to consider and choose human composting, and say it can be done in keeping with their Jewish values. Recompose in Seattle is among several companies in states where the process is legal that have composted the bodies of Jewish clients. Some rabbis, from more liberal Jewish traditions, are willing to support the choice.

Rabbi Seth Goldstein of Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia, Washington — the first state, in 2020, to approve human composting — has not yet presided at the funeral of someone who chose to be composted. But some of his congregants have asked about it.

“It is not something I was on the front lines for,” or for cremation either, said Goldstein, who was ordained in the Reconstructionist tradition.

But Goldstein is willing to work with those who favor composting, and said he would figure out ways to incorporate Jewish ritual into the funeral rather than to turn a family away.

“Human composting seems more in line with Jewish practice than cremation in terms of the practices and values that surround it,” he added. “It is something that has a lot of environmental value.”

From dust to dust

Anne Lang

Human composting — also called terramation and natural organic reduction — generally involves placing the deceased in a vessel, which can be cylindrical or boxlike, atop a bed of organic material — wood chips, alfalfa and sawdust are commonly used. The body is often wrapped in a cotton shroud, and air and moisture are pumped in.

Microbes found naturally in the body and the organic material take about two months to decompose it. What remains is about one cubic yard of soil and bones, which are then ground into a powder. Any medical devices or hardware is removed from the soil by hand.

Survivors can scatter the soil in a cemetery, their backyards or in a natural spot special to the deceased.

That’s what Anne Lang wanted.

“When it is my time, I would like to be composted,” she told her daughter Zoe. The Jewish woman from Boulder, who died of lymphoma in May, loved the outdoors and lived in Colorado, which legalized human composting last year.

At her mother’s deathbed, said Zoe Lang, the family said the Mourner’s Kaddish though they are not particularly observant. “It felt like something my mom would do and I wanted to honor her,” she said.

The funeral took place outside, with a view of the Flatiron rock formations. The Natural Funeral, a company not far from Boulder, took care of the composting. Two and a half months later, Anne Lang’s body was soil.

“The company asked if we wanted to pick it up and we chose to have it return to the Earth because that is what my mom would have wanted. So it was brought to a farm that grows flowers and trees,” Zoe Lang said.

The service cost the family between $7,000 and $8,000, and would have cost about $12,000 had they bought a coffin and a burial plot, Zoe Lang said.

It doesn’t bother her that she has no particular place to visit to mourn her mother.

“She is still with us,” Zoe Lang said. “I think she would be thrilled to know she is coming back as a flower or a tree with a beautiful view.”

More human composting businesses are opening as more states allow it. In addition to Washington and Colorado, it’s been legalized in Oregon, Vermont and California.

Washington has at least three such businesses — Recompose, Return Home and Earth, which promises a “carbon neutral alternative to cremation” and allows families to take a portion of the soil created from a body. It sends the rest to a land restoration project on the Olympic Peninsula.

Objections

Traditional Jewish burial forbids many common funeral practices that are also rejected by proponents of human composting.

A small box of soil made from human remains sits on a table at the Recompose funeral home in Seattle.

Jewish law, for example, prohibits embalming, a process that many who favor composting consider unnatural and polluting. And it shuns crypts, cement liners and other containers for the body, said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, the nation’s leading ultra-Orthodox umbrella group.

Cremation, which some environmentalists object to for the pollutants it produces, is also forbidden under Jewish law, which requires specific steps after a person dies that include the washing and quick burial of the body. In Orthodox tradition, cremation is a defilement.

But composting is similarly problematic, according to Shafran. “The idea of ‘utilizing’ a body as a growth medium is anathema to the honor due to a vessel that once held a human spirit,” he said.

Or as Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, put it: “Reverence for the dead through proper burial traditions has taken place throughout the generations.” He added: “The idea of grinding the bones is at odds with Jewish law.”

The Conservative movement, which lies between more traditional Orthodox Judaism and the more liberal Reform movement, has not taken a position on human composting, said Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, who leads Ansche Chesed, a Conservative synagogue in Manhattan. But he has studied the issue on its behalf and concluded that making a profit from human composting does not align with Jewish tradition.

“There is a difference between returning [a body] to the Earth — which is the point — and using the soil for a business,” he said.

A tallit atop a vessel that contains the remains of a Jewish person at Return Home, a Washington state funeral home that specializes in human composting.

In general, he continued, dead bodies shouldn’t be used for tangible benefit, even if it’s not strictly commercial. That’s why, he said, “it’s dishonorable to eat fruits or pick flowers growing directly above graves, nourished partly by decomposing human flesh.”

The Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the U.S., had no comment on human composting.

Goldstein, the Washington state rabbi who has fielded inquiries about human composting, is a past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, which he said not taken a position on it.

But even though he’s not an advocate, Goldstein said for some Jews, human composting dovetails nicely with their Jewish environmental values, which call them to be good stewards of the Earth. He advises other rabbis to be prepared for the conversation.

“I have to serve my people,” Goldstein said. “This is not an issue we can shy away from. It is reality and we have to deal with it.”

Coffin? Casket? Cremation?

— How to make your death more environmentally friendly

By and

We can all agree humans need to reduce their impact on the environment. And while most of us think of this in terms of daily activities – such as eating less meat, or being water-wise – this responsibility actually extends beyond life and into death.

The global population is closing on eight billion, and the amount of land available for human burial is running out, especially in small and densely populated countries.

To minimise environmental impact, human bodies should return to nature as quickly as possible. But the rate of decay in some of the most common traditional disposal methods is very slow. It can take several decades for a body to decompose.

In a one-of-its-kind study, our team analysed 408 human bodies exhumed from grave pits and stone tombs in the north of Italy to find out what conditions help speed up decay.

We conducted research on bodies exhumed from the La Villetta cemetery in Parma, Italy.

The environmental cost of traditional burials

Funeral rituals should respect the dead, bring closure to families and promote the reaching of the afterlife in accordance with people’s beliefs. This looks different for different people. Although the Catholic church has allowed cremation since 1963, it still prefers burials. Muslims are always supposed to be buried, while most Hindus are cremated.

In Australia, however, the latest census revealed almost 40% of the population identifies as “not religious”. This opens up more avenues for how people’s bodies may be handled after death.

Most traditional burial practices in industrialised countries have several long-lasting harmful effects on the environment. Wood and metal fragments in coffins and caskets remain in the ground, leaching harmful chemicals through paint, preservatives and alloys. Chemicals used for embalming also remain in the ground and can contaminate soil and waterways.

Caskets made out of processed materials like metal and wood are bad for the environment.

Cremation also has a large carbon footprint. It requires lots of trees for fuel and produces millions of tons of carbon dioxide each year, as well as toxic volatile compounds.

There are several alternatives to traditional burials. These include “water cremation” or “resomation” (where the body is rapidly dissolved), human composting, mummification, cryonics (freezing and storage), space burials, and even turning the body into trees or the ashes into diamonds or record vinyls.

However, many of these alternatives are either illegal, unavailable, costly or not aligned with people’s beliefs. The vast majority choose coffin burials, and all countries accept this method. So the question of sustainable burials comes down to choosing between the many types of coffins available.

What leads to faster decomposition?

Coffins range from traditional wooden caskets, to cardboard coffins, to natural coffins made from willow, banana leaf or bamboo, which decompose faster.

The most environmentally sustainable choice is one that allows the body to decompose and reduce to a skeleton (or “skeletonise”) quickly – possibly in just a few years.

Our research has presented three key findings on conditions that promote the skeletonisation of human bodies.

First, it has confirmed that bodies disposed in traditionally sealed tombs (where a coffin is placed inside a stone space) can take more than 40 years to skeletonise.

In these sealed tombs, bacteria rapidly consume the oxygen in the stone space where the coffin is placed. This creates a micro-environment that promotes an almost indefinite preservation of the body.

We also found burial grounds with a high percentage of sand and gravel in the soil promote the decomposition and skeletonisation of bodies in less than ten years – even if they are in a coffin.

That’s because this soil composition allows more circulation of air and microfauna, and ample water drainage – all of which are helpful for degrading organic matter.

Finally, our research confirmed previous suspicions about the slow decomposition of entombed bodies. We discovered placing bodies inside stone tombs, or covering them with a stone slab on the ground, helps with the formation of corpse wax (or “adipocere”).

This substance is the final result of several chemical reactions through which the body’s adipose (fat) tissues turn to a “soapy” substance that’s very resistant to further degradation. Having corpse wax slows down (if not completely arrests) the decomposition process.

A new, greener option

In looking for innovative burial solutions, we had the opportunity to experiment with a new type of body disposal in a tomb called an “aerated tomb”.

Over the past 20 years aerated tombs have been developed in some European countries including France, Spain and Italy (where they have been commercialised). They allow plenty of ventilation, which in turn enables a more hygienic and faster decomposition of bodies compared to traditional tombs.

They have a few notable features:

  • an activated carbon filter purifies gases
  • fluids are absorbed by two distinct biodegrading biological powders, one placed at the bottom of the coffin and the other in a collecting tray beneath it
  • once the body has decomposed, the skeletal remains can be moved to an ossuary (a site where skeletal remains are stored), while the tomb can be dismantled and most of its components potentially recycled.
An ossuary is full of skeletal remains forming a pillar and lining the walls – with a large white cross in the centre of a back wall.
Arguably one of the world’s most famous ossuaries, the Paris Catacombs is an underground labyrinth containing the remains of more than six million people.

Aerated tombs are also cheaper than ordinary tombs and can be built from existing tombs. They would be simple to use in Australia and would comply with public health and hygiene standards.

Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about what will happen to our bodies after we die. Perhaps we should. In the end this may be one of our most important last decisions – the implications of which extend to our precious planet.

Complete Article HERE!

Human Composting

— Become Living Soil After You Die

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This age-old poetic reference to cremation and burial faces a modern controversy. Are ash and dust from current death care practices eco-friendly? According to the Green Burial Council, current practices poison the land with over 4 million gallons of embalming fluid, including 827,060 gallons of formaldehyde, methanol, and benzene.

By

  • Five states, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and California, allow a new, eco-friendly death care option: human body composting.
  • Body composting is scientifically known as natural organic reduction (NOR). Some also call it termination.
  • For those who choose NOR, it takes two-six months to transform their bodies into rich composting soil to nourish the earth.
  • Loved ones may take home all or part of the soil or donate it to a land restoration project through their green funeral home.
  • NOR improves soil biodiversity and reduces carbon emissions. Meanwhile, neither traditional burial nor cremation is eco-friendly.

Meanwhile, by some calculations, U.S. cremations alone burn enough fossil fuels to power a car to the moon and back 1307 times per year.

A new, earth-friendly death care alternative is now legal in five states: transform your body into rich, living soil through body composting.

What is human composting?

Compost is a mixture of organic material added to soil to enrich its contents. Natural products like food scraps, leaves, and grass trimmings are mixed to decompose over time into the type of compost you buy at the store.

Green funeral homes apply this same scientific process to human bodies, allowing them to decompose into rich compost. The official name for body composting is natural organic reduction (NOR). The process requires carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen with optimal temperature and moisture to transform the body into the soil. This rich environment allows beneficial bacteria and other microbes to quickly break down the body into compost.

In 2012, Katrina Spade of Washington state learned that farmers have composted animal bodies for decades. In pursuit of greener burial options, she wondered if human bodies could also be composted.

After seven years of research and development, she stood with Washington state governor, Jay Inslee, on May 2019 when he signed body composting into law. Today, NOR is legal in Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and California, with bills pending in several other states as well.

Natural Organic Reduction (NOR) is eco-friendly

Like any healthy compost, natural organic reduction repairs soil feeds living organisms and absorbs carbon dioxide by restoring forests. This is the same outcome as a natural burial – death care completed without chemicals added to the body or burial supplies – but at a faster rate.

Recompose claims NOR uses 1/8 of the energy used by conventional burial or cremation and reduces carbon emissions by nourishing soil, plants, and forests.

It’s hard to argue when you look at the numbers. Modern burial not only leaks 4 million gallons of embalming fluid into the land yearly, but it also feeds the earth 1.6 million tons of concrete and 64,500 tons of steel, as well as iron, copper, lead, zinc, and cobalt leached from caskets and vaults.

Meanwhile, cremation is growing in popularity as many people find modern burial overly expensive, complex, and unnecessary. But fire cremation isn’t great for Mother Earth, either.

According to the Cremation Association of North America, 57.5% of America’s dead were cremated in 2021, while Canada’s rate was 74.8%. 40 years ago, only 5% of Americans chose cremation.

To cremate a body within two-three hours, the furnace temperature must reach about 1500°. One cremation burns 30 gallons of fuel and produces about 535 lbs of carbon dioxide. The EPA estimates that a typical passenger car emits about 845 lbs of carbon dioxide monthly.

With its necessary machinery and transportation, human composting isn’t completely carbon-free. The natural process also releases some greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide. However, body compost feeds plants and trees that remove carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen, which means NOR is possibly carbon-neutral. Impressively, one composted body produces nearly a pick-up truckload of healthy soil.

Plants and trees need biodiverse soil to thrive. More microbes live in one teaspoon of healthy soil than all the humans on the planet. Among those billions of microorganisms, there should be 10,000 – 50,000 species of these tiny creatures. Due to various modern practices, however, our soil’s microbial diversity is declining. Composted bodies help tackle this problem by restoring soil and nourishing damaged land.

Another benefit of NOR is that it uses 90% less water than aquamation, another green alternative, which uses water to cremate remains instead of fire.

How does body composting work?

Also called termination, NOR begins when a body is wrapped in a biodegradable cloth and cradled into a vessel, often a steel cylinder. The body rests on a bed of organic material such as alfalfa, wood chips, and straw. Some composting services use wildflowers as well. Each body is placed in its container about eight feet long and covered with more organic material.

Depending on the method used, the body typically stays in the vessel for 30 – 45 days. The environment inside the container reaches about 140°, a perfect atmosphere for microbes to transform the body.

Bones and teeth remain when the rest of the body is fully decomposed. They are ground – just like cremation – and returned to the soil.

Medical devices, metal fillings, and implants are also sorted out at this point and recycled when possible.

Once the body is transformed into compost, it is removed from the vessel and cured in a finishing container for two-four weeks to stabilize the soil’s chemical process.

Nature’s a brilliant transformation process

NOR eliminates nearly all harmful viruses and bacteria as the body decomposes, including SARS-CoV-2. Currently, only three diseases disqualify bodies from being composted: Ebola, tuberculosis, and rare prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which causes severe brain damage.

Embalmed bodies are not allowed to be composted. Embalming chemicals are toxic and kill the microbes needed for the composting process.

Radiation seeds implanted for cancer treatment must be removed from the body before composting if the seeds were placed within 30 days of death.

What do loved ones do with the soil?

Loved ones choose to receive all or part of their person’s soil. Like any compost, the soil can feed their deceased loved one’s garden, nurture an orchard, or nourish a memorial tree.

But not every family wants a truckload of their loved one’s composted body. Instead, with the help of the funeral home, the family can donate the soil to a land restoration project.

Burial laws differ from state to state. The placement of human compost must comply with state regulations.

Natural Organic Reduction (NOR) costs about the same as cremation

Depending on the company, costs of terramation with a memorial service range from $3500 – 8000. Some companies subsidize the rate for those who need financial help.

In the United States, the median price for a ceremony with cremation in 2021 was $6971. The median cost of a ceremony with viewing (which requires embalming) and burial was $7848. This burial cost does not include a plot, a cement vault, or a headstone, which can increase the cost substantially.

For people living in a state where NOR is not yet allowed, it is legal to transport a body between states. Delivery of human compost can also be arranged across states.

Leaving a legacy

Green burial options are growing as the public pushes for improved death care practices. Natural organic reduction feeds and nourishes the earth as it has fed and nourished you. For a final act of gratitude, consider returning your body to the earth as rich, living soil.

Complete Article HERE!

Death Comes For Everybody

— Here’s How to Make Yours Sustainable

By Paola Magni & Edda Guareschi

We can all agree humans need to reduce their impact on the environment. And while most of us think of this in terms of daily activities – such as eating less meat, or being water-wise – this responsibility actually extends beyond life and into death.

The global population is closing on 8 billion, and the amount of land available for human burial is running out, especially in small and densely populated countries.

To minimise environmental impact, human bodies should return to nature as quickly as possible. But the rate of decay in some of the most common traditional disposal methods is very slow. It can take several decades for a body to decompose.

In a one-of-its-kind study, our team analyzed 408 human bodies exhumed from grave pits and stone tombs in the north of Italy to find out what conditions help speed up decay

The environmental cost of traditional burials

Funeral rituals should respect the dead, bring closure to families and promote the reaching of the afterlife in accordance with people’s beliefs. This looks different for different people.

Although the Catholic church has allowed cremation since 1963, it still prefers burials. Muslims are always supposed to be buried, while most Hindus are cremated.

In Australia, however, the latest census revealed almost 40 percent of the population identifies as “not religious“. This opens up more avenues for how people’s bodies may be handled after death.

Most traditional burial practices in industrialised countries have several long-lasting harmful effects on the environment.

Wood and metal fragments in coffins and caskets remain in the ground, leaching harmful chemicals through paint, preservatives and alloys. Chemicals used for embalming also remain in the ground and can contaminate soil and waterways.

Cremation also has a large carbon footprint. It requires lots of trees for fuel and produces millions of tons of carbon dioxide each year, as well as toxic volatile compounds.

There are several alternatives to traditional burials. These include “water cremation” or “resomation” (where the body is rapidly dissolved), human composting, mummification, cryonics (freezing and storage), space burials, and even turning the body into trees or the ashes into diamonds or record vinyls.

However, many of these alternatives are either illegal, unavailable, costly or not aligned with people’s beliefs. The vast majority choose coffin burials, and all countries accept this method. So the question of sustainable burials comes down to choosing between the many types of coffins available.

What leads to faster decomposition?

Coffins range from traditional wooden caskets, to cardboard coffins, to natural coffins made from willow, banana leaf or bamboo, which decompose faster.

The most environmentally sustainable choice is one that allows the body to decompose and reduce to a skeleton (or “skeletonize”) quickly – possibly in just a few years.

Our research has presented three key findings on conditions that promote the skeletonization of human bodies.

First, it has confirmed that bodies disposed in traditionally sealed tombs (where a coffin is placed inside a stone space) can take more than 40 years to skeletonise.

In these sealed tombs, bacteria rapidly consume the oxygen in the stone space where the coffin is placed. This creates a micro-environment that promotes an almost indefinite preservation of the body.

We also found burial grounds with a high percentage of sand and gravel in the soil promote the decomposition and skeletonisation of bodies in less than ten years – even if they are in a coffin.

That’s because this soil composition allows more circulation of air and microfauna, and ample water drainage – all of which are helpful for degrading organic matter.

Finally, our research confirmed previous suspicions about the slow decomposition of entombed bodies. We discovered placing bodies inside stone tombs, or covering them with a stone slab on the ground, helps with the formation of corpse wax (or “adipocere“).

This substance is the final result of several chemical reactions through which the body’s adipose (fat) tissues turn to a “soapy” substance that’s very resistant to further degradation. Having corpse wax slows down (if not completely arrests) the decomposition process.

A new, greener option

In looking for innovative burial solutions, we had the opportunity to experiment with a new type of body disposal in a tomb called an “aerated tomb“.

Over the past 20 years, aerated tombs have been developed in some European countries including France, Spain and Italy (where they have been commercialised).

They allow plenty of ventilation, which in turn enables a more hygienic and faster decomposition of bodies compared to traditional tombs.

They have a few notable features:

  • An activated carbon filter purifies gases
  • Fluids are absorbed by two distinct biodegrading biological powders, one placed at the bottom of the coffin and the other in a collecting tray beneath it
  • Once the body has decomposed, the skeletal remains can be moved to an ossuary (a site where skeletal remains are stored), while the tomb can be dismantled and most of its components potentially recycled.

Aerated tombs are also cheaper than ordinary tombs and can be built from existing tombs. They would be simple to use in Australia and would comply with public health and hygiene standards.

Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about what will happen to our bodies after we die. Perhaps we should. In the end this may be one of our most important last decisions – the implications of which extend to our precious planet.

Complete Article HERE!

How human composting could reduce death’s carbon footprint

By Kristen Rogers

You probably know that composting banana peels and eggshells can help reduce your negative impact on the environment. But did you know that, once you die, you can do that with your body, too?

Human composting — also known as natural organic reduction or the reduction of human remains — is the practice of placing a dead body in a reusable vessel with biodegradable materials that foster the transformation into nutrient-dense soil that can be returned to loved ones or donated to conservation land.

The notion of going green even in death might sound far-fetched, but California has become the latest state to sign a human composting bill into law, set to go into effect in 2027. Washington became the first state to legalize human composting in 2019, followed by Oregon, Colorado and Vermont.

Advocates of human composting hope it can help slow the climate crisis driven by burning fossil fuels that produce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane. Cremations require lots of fuel — cremating one corpse emits an estimated 418 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air, the equivalent of driving 470 miles in a car, according to Chemical & Engineering News, a publication of the American Chemical Society. In the United States, cremations account for 1.74 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each year, according to Green Burial Council Inc., an organization that oversees certification standards for cemeteries, funeral homes and product providers engaged in sustainable burial practices.

“Human composting … uses much less energy than cremation, which uses fossil gas to create heat of over 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose, a licensed green funeral home in Seattle. “When human composting transforms the organic material of our bodies, carbon is also sequestered in the soil created. Rather than being released as carbon dioxide gas through exhaust during a cremation, the carbon matter contained in each body returns to the earth.”

Cristina Garcia, the California Assembly member who introduced the state legislation, said wildfires and extreme drought are reminders that climate change is real, and that methane and carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced. “For each individual who chooses (natural organic reduction) over conventional burial or cremation, the process saves the equivalent of one metric ton of carbon from entering the environment,” Garcia said in a September news release.

Recompose, Spade’s company, became the first human composting facility in the US when it opened in December 2020. Spade thought of human composting in graduate school after learning about livestock mortality composting, when farm animals are recycled back to the land, she said.

The industry is new, and there is little research on how much better human composting is for the environment compared with traditional burials, cremation or green burials. And the process isn’t carbon-free since it still involves machinery operated by electricity and transportation of bodies, materials and remains, said Ed Bixby, president of the Green Burial Council.

As interest in more sustainable end-of-life options grows, transparency about the practice is crucial, Bixby said. A recent National Funeral Directors Association survey that found 60.5% of respondents were interested in exploring “green” funeral options because of potential environmental benefits, cost savings or other reasons.

“With our families, we never want them to be disturbed or upset believing something that isn’t,” Bixby said. “If you’re going to do something, if it’s environmentally conscious, we think that’s wonderful. But we want to be sure that people understand what they’re buying into.”

At Recompose, human composting happens in a steel cylinder that’s 8 feet long and 4 feet tall, Spade said. A body is placed in the vessel on a bed of wood chips, alfalfa and straw.

“Human composting creates an environment in which beneficial microbes thrive, with a specific moisture content and ratio of carbon and nitrogen materials,” Spade said.

Over the next 30 days, everything inside naturally decomposes. One body creates a cubic yard of soil amendment — a substance added to soil to improve its texture or health — which is removed from the vessel and cured for two to six weeks. Afterward, it can be donated to conservation projects, or a certain amount can be returned to loved ones. But the amount loved ones receive can depend on what a state allows since the soil would still be legally considered human remains with regulations on what people can do with them, Bixby said.

The practice also avoids the introduction of nonbiodegradable materials — such as concrete or plastic vaults, steel caskets or lacquers — to the atmosphere or land, and forest depletion for wood caskets, Bixby said. Human composting would also protect funeral home workers from exposure to high levels of formaldehyde, which has been found to cause myeloid leukemia and rare cancers.

Human composting could lower the financial footprint of end-of-life arrangements, too. The median cost of a funeral with cremation in the US in 2021 was $6,971, and the median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,848, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. But the median burial estimate doesn’t include a plot, headstone or other cemetery costs associated with a traditional burial, which can often double the cost, Spade said.

“Recompose strives to keep the price for human composting comparable to other death care options,” Spade said.

Recompose has composted more than 200 corpses into soil since opening nearly two years ago and has more than 1,100 people signed up for Precompose, the company’s prearrangement program, Spade said.

“We hear from our clients that knowing that their body — or that of their loved one — will be able to return to the earth is deeply comforting,” Spade said.

Not everyone is eligible for human composting. Natural organic reduction destroys most harmful pathogens, but there are three rare diseases that disqualify a body from undergoing human composting, Spade said: Ebola, tuberculosis and diseases caused by prions, which are abnormal, transmissible pathogenic agents that can cause abnormal folding of certain brain proteins.

The list of states allowing human composting may soon grow longer. A bill in New York state has passed both legislative houses and is on its way to the governor’s desk, Spade said. And in Massachusetts, state Reps. Jack Lewis and Natalie Higgins are leading a bill to legalize human composting there.

Most funeral homes, however, might not be quick to adopt the practice, Bixby said. Once a permit is issued, direct cremation can be done the same day, he added. A burial typically takes three to five days, while human composting can take up to 120.

“The problem I see, as far as this growing, is that you can’t do high volume,” Bixby said. “As long as this process is, having five or six (vessels) doesn’t do a lot of good. … As a businessman, my feeling is this really won’t gain much ground for that main reason.”

He added, “It doesn’t make a lot of practical sense. And I hate to make things about money because it shouldn’t be, but at the end of the day, when you’re providing a service, it has to be about the income because you have to keep the lights on.”

Complete Article HERE!