By Scott Sullivan
Dust to Dust
“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday. I don’t know,” wrote Albert Camus in “The Stranger.” Some were shocked by his seeming callousness, but not me. I’m upset his protagonist didn’t pitch Mama onto his compost heap.
Washington, The Los Angeles Times reports, has become the first state to legalize human composting, calling it an alternative to conventional burial and cremation that produces topsoil suitable for gardening.
Why waste land on graveyard plots, caskets enshrining chemically-embalmed corpses and urns of ashes when you can turn Grandma into guava, grapes or gooseberries?
One challenge to growing this eco-friendly process, The Times says, is branding. Would cremation — which has expanded from 3 percent of dispositions in 1960 to near half today — have grown so had we labeled it “human burning”?
It’s fine to call spades “spades” if you can sell it. Otherwise? Send in the clone words, or euphemisms. A new firm Recompose wants to peddle the process as “natural organic reduction,” letting microbes break down remains. I let microbreweries do that for what remains of my brains, but I’m not dead yet.
Recompose CEO Katrina Spade — really — dug into this after turning 30 and realizing she was mortal. As a graduate student, she researched environmentally sustainable alternatives to the $20-billion U.S. funeral industry, which she considered toxic and dehumanizing, Also armed to sustain itself by lobbying against competitors. Economies of scale are how “free” markets work, till they cease to.
Spade formed the nonprofit Urban Death Project to calculate that composting just one body would save more than a ton of carbon emissions. Like I’ll care once I’m dead. But others feel more responsible.
Spade hopes to develop an outlet where bodies will morph within weeks into soil fit to push up daisies. She seeks $6.75 million in investments for a proprietary process wherein corpses are placed with wood chips, alfalfa and straw in hexagonal steel vessels, where they will be decomposed by microbes.
The end product will be “a dry, fluffy soil, much like a bag of topsoil one would buy at a nursery,” Spade told The Times. Customers will have an option to donate compost to conservation groups for tree planting. Recompose plans to charge $5,500, more than the average cremation but less than burial in a casket.
Not everyone is dying to turn loved ones’ bodies into garden soil. “It’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of,” said Spokane funeral home director Dennis Murphy, who criticized the price and makes bones that bones will deteriorate.
The Washington State Catholic Conference fought the state’s human composting bill on philosophical grounds, claiming it fails to show enough respect for dead people’s bodies.
How much is “enough”? “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” sang Aretha Franklin, but it’s too late to ask her now. Beware the Corpse Corps, a core of zombies demanding they have rights too.
What does WSCC ordain about organ donations? Do members vote to decide what God says? Some conference bodies should be dismembered.
Camus died in 1960. Or maybe 1959. I can’t remember. His was an outdated notion of what absurd was. Unless it wasn’t.
So much paradox, so little sense. With Donald Trump Making America Great Again and stock prices rising to spread the buffer between rich and poor to chasm levels, why are folks so angry?
Last year, The Washington Post reports, 22 percent of respondents across 142 countries polled by Gallup said they felt angry, two percentage points higher than in 2017 and a new rage record.
Who cares about other countries: How about U.S.? Gallup says we’re the norm for anger, but well over the world average for “worrying a lot”: 45 percent.
We’re more stressed, I figure, from fear those 141 other countries will gang up and nuke us for over-imposing our strong-arm policies against them. I get playing trump cards (pun intended) — economic sanctions, tariffs and so on — in a zero-sum game. But I worry what happens when they’re played out.
I was feeling good till I read the Gallup results. Organic reduction — natural or unnatural — seems to be where we’re heading.
“The idea of returning to nature so directly and being folded back into the cycle of life and death is actually pretty beautiful,” Spade said.