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Science | Geography | Citizenship | RE

Human compost offers eco-friendly way to go

Can human composting save the planet? As we try to live more ecologically, new funeral methods are changing our attitudes about death and creating green alternatives to burial and cremation. n Most of us don't like to think about what happens to our body after we die. We are usually buried or crematedTo burn a dead person's body, usually as part of a funeral ceremony.. But if you live in the US state of Washington, there's now a third option: composting. This is the idea behind Recompose, a company planning to convert "human remains to soil" in a purpose-built centre to open next year. The deceased are placed in rotating containers with woodchips, leaves, and straw. Over six weeks, microbesVery small living things, also known as microorganisms.  decompose the body into two wheelbarrows of compost. This is returned to their loved ones, who can scatter it like ashes, or use it in their garden. But why would you want to throw your family on the compost heap? Conventional funeral practices are harming the environment, says Sandy Sullivan of the UK-based, eco-funeral company, Resomation. The energy burnt and carbon dioxide released in cremation adds to our carbon footprintThe total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions. China is the top emitter with 28% of the world’s total emissions. The US is second with 14%., accelerating the climate crisis. Burials are just as bad, filling up the ground with "indestructible" sealed coffins, leaking poisonous embalming fluids into the earth. In response, many choose "green burials" using biodegradable coffins (without embalming), in meadows and woodlands. But this can be difficult if you live in a city, where the cemeteries are full and burial sites more expensive. No wonder the majority of people in the US and UK now choose to be cremated. Another option is "water cremation", dissolving the body in potassium hydroxide and grinding the bones into a powder. But if this is making you queasy, you're not alone. In Washington, Catholics complain that these green funerals are "disgusting and undignified" and fail "to show enough respect for the body of the deceased". But Claire Callender of the Green Funeral Company says it is a matter of perspective and what we're used to. After all, with cremation, "your grandma is basically going up a chimney and then coming out as particles of soot and carbon and everybody is inhaling them". Which doesn't sound very dignified. And Nora Menkin of the People's Memorial Association says composting has its own dignity. "It gives meaning and use to what happens to our bodies after death." So, could green funerals save the planet? It’s your funeral Let's keep some perspective, argue the critics. The carbon footprint of a cremation is only 400kg - compared to 14,000kg, the annual average footprint for a living, breathing European. So, the best way to save the planet is to take fewer flights and eat less meat whilst we're still alive. Besides, for the spiritual, there is more to traditional practices than their financial and environmental costs. Others say that a green burial can be just as spiritual and dignified as conventional funerals. What could be more beautiful than for your body to return to the soil and create and feed new life? The environmental impact may be small, but it is about a wider change in perspective in our relationship to the world. Do we really want our last act on Earth to be to pollute the air, or poison the ground? KeywordsCremated - To burn a dead person's body, usually as part of a funeral ceremony.

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