Small experiment suggests human bodies are turned into compost plants

Reducing bodies to dirt can be a friendly nature at a funeral or cremation.

SEATTLE – The human body makes good food for worms. This is the result of pilot tests with six corpses allowed to decompose between wood chips and other organic matter.

The findings, presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Feb. 16, indicate that composting, also known as natural organic reduction, is one way to kindly treat corpses. lupa.

Disposal of human corpses can be a real environmental problem. Embalming relies on large amounts of toxic liquids, and a large amount of carbon dioxide is released during cremation. But composting, where microbes break down terrestrial bodies, “is a great option,” said Jennifer DeBruyn, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville who was not involved in the study.

In 2019, Washington became the first state to legalize natural biological reduction as an option in the afterlife. A Seattle-based company, Recompose, expects to receive bodies for composting as soon as possible.
At a press conference, Earth scientist Lynne Carpenter-Boggs of Washington State University at Pullman described a pilot experiment in which six bodies were placed in jars containing plant material and regularly rotated to create optimal decomposition conditions. About four to seven weeks later, the microbes in the material reduced the bodies to skeletons.

Each body produces 1.5 to 2 cubic meters of earth-like material. Commercial processes will likely use more in-depth bone processing techniques, said Carpenter-Boggs, research consultant at Recompose. Their tests also show that the resulting terrain meets safety standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency for contaminants such as heavy metals.

Animal carcasses have long been similarly rich soil, DeBruyn said. “The idea of ​​applying it to humans, to me as an environmentalist and someone who has worked on compost, really makes sense.” The heat generated by busy microbes has the added benefit of killing harmful pathogens. “Automatic sterilization,” DeBruyn calls. Sometimes when fertilizing cattle, “the pile would get hot when our probes read the temperature, the maps and wood chips were burnt,” DeBruyn said.

One thing the high heat won’t kill is prions, extremely rigid, improperly locked proteins that can cause disease (SN: 9/9/15). This means that “composting is not allowed for people diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,” Carpenter-Boggs said.

The extent of the composting process of human bodies remains to be seen. Lawmakers in other states are considering the procedure, Carpenter-Boggs said.

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