The yet-to-be-enacted Urban Death Project would require the construction of a building in which the bodies could be stored and decomposed. Wrapped in linen, the corpses would be placed in a three-story core filled with high-carbon materials to aid the decomposition process. After three months of aerobic decomposition aided by microorganisms, the body will have become nutrient-rich soil. The building would also serve as a funeral home, in which relatives and friends would be invited to wrap the body in linen and assist in determining its final resting place in the compost pile. “Those closest to the deceased meet the body in the shrouding room, where they wrap it in simple linen,” says Spade. “Supportive staff are on hand to assist in this process.”
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Spade was compelled to create a less harmful, more grounded method of laying people to rest. “It is disrespectful both to the earth and to ourselves that we fill our dead bodies with toxic fluid before burying them in the ground,” she said. 750,000 gallons of formaldehyde-containing embalming fluid are used every year in the United States while 30 million board-feet of hardwood and 90,000 tons of steel are required to build a year’s worth of coffins. “Cremation is a less wasteful option, but cremation in the US emits approximately 600 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, which is the equivalent of more than 70,000 cars driving the road for a year,” says Spade.
Evident in the Project’s name, Spade was particularly focused on finding solutions that meet the challenges of cities. “Everybody is impacted by death, but people in urban areas and poor people are especially affected by a lack of burial space and the expense of conventional disposal methods,” says Spade. “It is not a viable option, nor desirable, to have our bodies pumped with toxic chemicals, wrapped in raw materials, and buried in an individual plot where they take up precious arable land.”
Lead image via Shutterstock; others via Katrina Spade/Urban Death Project