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You can now get composted when you kick the bucket

The disposal of human remains following death is rooted in lots of traditions and beliefs. But there has always been concerns about costs, environmental impact, and space in the ever shrinking cemeteries. Cremations somewhat negate the need for expensive coffins and a burial space. But a new option is now available too, composting of human bodies. Yes, you read it right. Once done, you can opt to be composted into a nutrient rich soil, or manure to be clear.

Human composting isn’t any different from a similar method used by farmers to compost livestock. The process gently combines the human body with natural ingredients that include wood chips, alfafa and straw. Oxygen is then allowed to flow through. The body gets broken down slowly by microbes over a month or so. The final result is about two full wheelbarrows of soil, or human manure! This can then feed back into farmlands, backyards or wherever. No additional space required, no expensive coffins, no fuss.

A company aptly named Recompose has now been licensed to compost humans in the US. The initial trial of composting involved volunteers, eventually leading to some acceptance of the process, and a new business to boot. The initial cost has been pegged to about USD 5000, a far cry from what burials cost within some communities in Kenya.

But as is the case with anything that veers from the norm, there has been an outcry from some. Opponents of human composting have argued that it isn’t respectful of the dead. Others cringe at the thought of their departed one getting slowly composted by bacteria over several weeks. And still, some aren’t sure they will feel comfortable spreading human compost onto their garden, thereafter enjoying flowers sprouting forth with.

Those supporting human composting point to the many benefits. It’s difficult to argue against the crowding in cemeteries, or in sections of family land hived off for burials. Coffins aren’t cheap, and they leave behind a carbon footprint trailing their manufacture. Not to forget that composting happens anyway once a body has been buried deep into the ground. Cremation isn’t exactly carbon neutral either, and has its associated costs. So the argument about the environmental impact of traditional human disposal has some footing.

But it’s entirely up to you to decide for yourself if getting composted appeals to you when you depart. If you get sold onto the environmental impact of traditional burials, then you might find composting a good way to exit. You’d then need to convince your next of kin about your choice, and agree with them what to do with your compost. But human composting isn’t yet legally available in Kenya. You’ll need to wait for the practice to catch up, or pioneer it yourself.

Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility Specialist.

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