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The Urban Death Project Wants to Compost Your Corpse

Founder Katrina Spade wants to turn death into a sustainable process.

Add this to the list of things contributing to the slow and sure degradation of our planet: death. At least, the way we do death, through embalming, or even cremation. Americans annually use 750,000 gallons of formaldehyde-containing embalming liquid, which is carcinogenic. The process of cremation releases approximately 600 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Coffins, too, are made up of wood and steel, a drain on finite resources. And then there’s the matter of space: City cemeteries are overcrowded.

These statistics come by way of the Urban Death Project, an organization that wants to make death a more sustainable process. Seattle-based designer Katrina Spade, the founder and executive director, is running a fundraising campaign to build their first mortuary and composting facility. “The Urban Death Project utilizes the process of composting to safely and gently turn our deceased into soil-building material, creating a meaningful, equitable, and ecological urban alternative to existing options for the disposition of the dead,” Spade told Dezeen. “The project is a solution to the overcrowding of city cemeteries, a sustainable method of disposing of our dead, and a new ritual for laying our loved ones to rest.”

A visual conceptualization of the Urban Death Project ceremony. Image via the Urban Death Project's Kickstarter page

A traditional funeral would be replaced by a shrouding and laying-in ceremony. Bodies would be wrapped in linen and than contained in a room where high-carbon materials would facilitate the decomposition process. There, the body deteriorates into a nutrient-rich soil, which is then used as compost. Loved ones may choose to take some of the compost to use back home; or they can choose to donate it to city parks.

Last year, the Urban Death Project held a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and raised $91,000 to research and design the facility, but they’re now looking for funding to the finalize their goal.

“This organization aims to fundamentally alter the way that we in Western society think about death, Spade told Dezeen. “Its goal is to undo the overcommercialization and needless distance we have created between ourselves and this inevitable human event.”

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