Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Composting Your Body: The Greenest Burial

 by Danielle Maestretti

Tags: Spirituality, mindful living, green funerals, green burial, death, Six Feet Under, The Walrus,

Zurich treeOver the past few years, green funerals have been a hot topic in eco-conscious circles. Thanks in part to a particularly memorable (and widely discussed) funeral scene from HBO’s Six Feet Under, conversations about green burialsbiodegradable caskets, and natural cemeteries often seem less morbid than they do practical.

The Walrus reports on a new technique that may, it seems, be the greenest of them all. The process, called promession, sounds like a kind of high-tech version of composting (one that avoids all the arduous turning and, uh, odor-releasing of the down-home method). It was developed by Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, who is planning to open the world’s first promatorium in Jönköping, Sweden, sometime next year. James Glave (for The Walrus) explains:

Think of the operation as a kind of corpse disassembly line. The dearly departed are first supercooled in liquid nitrogen to about minus 196°C, then shattered into very small pieces on a vibration table. “We wanted to make the body unrecognizable without using any kind of an instrument that you would see in a kitchen or garage,” [Wiigh-Mäsak] explains.

Next a vacuum is used to evaporate moisture while a metal separator, traditionally used by the food processing industry to remove stray foreign objects from meat products, shuffles aside fillings, crowns, titanium hips, and so on. (You can put that sandwich down now.) Finally, the vaguely pink crumbs are deposited in a large box made of corn or potato starch.

Surviving family members bury the box in shallow topsoil and plant a tree or shrub on top. With the exception of perhaps a few broken remnants of plastic
 pacemaker, in a matter of months nothing is left but memories and some lush greenery.

(Congratulations to The Walrus, which won the 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for best writing.)

Source: The Walrus 

Image by McPig, licensed under Creative Commons.