On this page, you will find a variety of articles related to the end of life.
Please scroll down to see them all.
On this website under the heading 'FREE TLC VIDEOS' you will find a program recorded in 2022 called 'New Choices: Alternative Interment & Green Burial' - with Ed Bixby and Seth Viddal. The excerpted articles below provide additional information about these practices. We at TLC feel this may be helpful for some people - modern interment methods provide protection for the environment while maintaining the integrity of the deceased and are an honorable way to disperse remains after death. We hope this information is helpful to you.
To watch TLC's free video 'New Choices: Alternative Interment & Green Burial', click here and scroll down.
If You Want to Give Something Back to Nature, Give Your Body
From a New York Times article by Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty is a mortician and the author of three books on death and the funeral industry. She founded the Order of the Good Death, a nonprofit that promotes end-of-life alternatives.
Eight years ago, panting heavily in the humid summer air, I carried a pair of orange work buckets full of wood chips up a leafy hill in rural North Carolina. Although these were ordinary wood chips, the pilot study I’d come to observe was planning to put them to an extraordinary use: composting a dead human being into soil.
The deceased gentleman I saw that day, lying on the forest floor in dappled sunlight, had donated his body to science in order to be useful to society after death. Now that gift and the study, by the Forensic Osteology Research Station of Western Carolina University, have borne fruit. With human composting technology, our dead have the chance to become nutrient-rich soil that can be used to plant trees and regrow forests.
As of today, five states — Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado and, most recently, California — have either legalized or set a date for legalizing human composting as a means of disposition after death. In New York, one such bill has passed the Assembly and Senate. It now awaits Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature.
Human composting — or, as it’s sometimes referred to, natural organic reduction — fulfills many people’s desire to nurture the earth after dying. It owes much of its present form to Katrina Spade, a Washington-based designer and entrepreneur who told me that her goal is to see “composting overtake cremation as the default American death care in the next couple of decades.”
In 2015, as an architecture student, Ms. Spade started a nonprofit called the Urban Death Project, envisioning strolling past the brownstones of Brooklyn and coming upon a municipal human composting facility. There, passersby would reflect on mortality and the cycle of life, feeling a sense of connection to the earth, past and future — the way urban cemeteries like Green-Wood were designed to make repose in death a harmonious part of city life...
... The process takes place inside a cylindrical vessel — they remind me of a Japanese capsule hotel for the dead. A bed is made of plant materials like straw, brown wood chips, sawdust and alfalfa. The body is then wrapped in a cotton shroud and laid in place. During the ceremony, loved ones can add flowers and other meaningful organic materials. Air (and in some cases, moisture) is pumped into the vessel to ensure that conditions are ideal for decomposition. The microbes naturally found in the body and plant material will begin to break everything down. Temperature and airflow are monitored and controlled, and the vessel is
intermittently rotated for aeration. Fragrant gases such as cadaverine and putrescine are treated with a bio-filter before being released.
After six to eight weeks, the body has undergone a complete transformation. Near the end, all that is left are bone fragments, any medical implants (like artificial hips) and nutrient-rich soil. Remaining bones are ground into powder in a cremulator, a machine commonly used after cremation, before being returned to the soil to further break down. Medical implants are hand- sifted out and recycled. The soil is also tested for any harmful chemicals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and even fecal coliform. The soil is left to dry out and cure. Once the process is complete, there will be approximately one cubic yard of new soil created from the mixture of what was, at the start, human remains and plant matter. This special earth can then be scattered in a cemetery, placed in a grave or given to the family to use as it sees fit. Tanya Marsh, a professor at Wake Forest University and a leader in human remains law, said that in the New York bill the final product is defined as soil, with no restrictions placed on its use.
After working for years in the American funeral industry and founding a nonprofit to promote acceptance and legalization of new green funeral options, I felt the need to warn Ms. Spade that with death, change comes slowly. The new composting process would have to be approved state by state, one by one.
The Urban Death Project is now shuttered. In its place, Ms. Spade founded Recompose, a new for-profit company designed to bring human composting to the public. (She and I have been friends and have advised each other’s work for years but have never had any type of financial relationship. I have no stake in Recompose or any other human composting company.) The business is up and running in Washington, alongside several other new companies like Return Home, Earth Funeral and the Natural Funeral, which serve other states where human composting is legal.
There are environmental and financial reasons this process makes sense for New York. In the city, we’re running out of space for burials. Plots in New York City typically range from $4,500 to $19,000 — and some plots in Manhattan can cost up to $1 million. This price doesn’t include the additional tens of thousands of dollars it typically costs when a funeral home prepares and transports a body for burial.
The usual way to save on these costs has been cremation, which can be available in the $2,500 range. But cremation has drawbacks. The cremation process uses as much fossil fuel per body as a 500-mile car trip. And releases harmful air pollutants like dioxins, mercury and fine particulate matter into the surrounding neighborhoods. Human composting, by Recompose’s reckoning, uses just an eighth of this energy and falls in total price between cremation and conventional burial, at around $7,000. This process also saves around a metric ton of CO2 for every person composted, compared with conventional burial or cremation.
Besides these practical reasons to re-examine our way of dying, there are emotional reasons. We humans value our relationship with the planet we live on. It’s natural to want to give something back and, in a deep way, to return to the elements — to return our atoms to nature... The process was so important to one Brooklynite, Michelle Miller, that when her mother died, Ms. Miller had her body transported to Seattle to be composted. “It was moving, quiet and meaningful,” she said. After the process, “members of my family called to say the experience was healing for them in ways they had not expected.”
Sean Ovens was an officer in the Tacoma, Wash., police department and an instructor at the local police academy. After he took his own life in July, his mother, Roberta Vollendorff, had his body composted at Return Home and brought the soil from his remains to a Sitka spruce tree on her property. “Not everybody has as much land as I do, but almost everybody has plants that they can go to,” she said, adding, “I can walk out to the tree that I’ve walked out to all these years, and my son is there. It’s so comforting.”
There are also those who fear their own eventual decay. It has been a century since America’s dead have regularly returned to the organic life cycle. The American funeral industry has promoted the idea that the “dignified” dead body should be preserved by formaldehyde embalming, placed in a sealed casket and lowered into a heavy concrete vault under the ground. This is a valid choice, but it treats the dead as something to be vigilantly protected. Human composting reframes the dead body: not something to be protected from nature and the elements but something meant to return to them. It requires facing the reality of a changing climate and our place in the life cycle — no small existential feat.
Our society continues to search for new rituals and new ways to affirm that we’re all dignified in our mortality, that dust will be dust. We ought to respect everyone’s choices for their dead and realize that no one group can define for the rest what a dignified death might look like.
Six years after carrying those wood chips through the North Carolina forest, I visited another forest, in southern Washington. After decades of depletion by logging, this forest had been taken over by a conservation organization with a special mission. A golf cart drove me along a rewilding logging path, up to a field of dark-brown compost. The soil in this compost was once the bodies of 28 humans: now all were one, part of the woods around them. These 28 people chose to donate their soil to help regrow native trees and eventually bring shade to a salmon- spawning stream. The soil in this field testifies to a group of pioneers who wished, as a last gesture, to help repair some of the damage we’ve done to nature. It’s a gesture everyone in the country should have the legal choice to make and many in New York would like the opportunity to make. If Governor Hochul signs the bill into law, New Yorkers will have the chance to use their loved ones’ soil in any way they find meaningful: scatter, plant a tree, take to a cemetery, fertilize a garden or donate to a conservation organization.
At Recompose in Seattle, Ms. Spade has composted the bodies of over 200 people. Other states are following suit, with new practitioners sprouting up to offer the service to their communities. There is a broad desire in America to expand our death care choices and to align them with our hopes and dreams for a healthy planet. New York can light the way.
Human composting: California clears the way for greener burial method.
by Kari Paul / Sep 19, 2022
California lawmakers have approved a new way of returning those who have died to the earth, after Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill allowing human composting on Sunday.
Cremation, which accounts for more than half of burials, is an energy-intensive process that emits chemicals such as CO2 into the air. Through human composting, or natural organic reduction (NOR), the body is naturally broken down into soil.
Assembly Bill 351, drafted by assembly member Cristina Garcia, allows for the natural organic reduction of human remains to soil, as a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional burial methods.
“With climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere,” Garcia said in a statement.
The process involves placing the deceased in an 8ft-long steel box with biodegradable materials such as wood chips and flowers. After 30 to 60 days, the body breaks down into soil that can be returned to relatives.
California is the fifth state to legalize human composting, after Washington, Colorado, Vermont and Oregon. The demand for such after-life care has been growing in recent years said Micah Truman, founder and CEO of Return Home, a funeral home in the Seattle area that specializes in human composting.
“With cremation, instead of sitting with our person and saying goodbye, we are very divorced from the process,” he said...
... Truman said that when a body is composted, it is returned to the family to do with it as they wish. Customers have planted trees and flowers, or spread soil into the ocean. One farmer requested before dying that his body be returned to the farm he spent his life tending. “There is no limit to what can be done with the soil after death,” Truman said.
Composting runs at about $5,000 to $7,000, compared with the median price of $7,225 for casket burials and $6,028 for cremation in California. Garcia, who had tried to pass the bill for the past three years, emphasized the environmental argument for composting in a statement. “The wildfires, extreme drought and heat dome we just experienced remind us that climate change is real and detrimental and we must do everything we can to reduce methane and CO2 emissions,” she said.
The Ultimate Compostable: You
...Green postmortem possibilities abound.
September 24, 2022
The typical US funeral ends with cremation or burial in a coffin sealed inside a concrete vault. But new, greener after-death possibilities have emerged. Alkaline hydrolysis is now available in most states, and Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont allow the composting of human remains. Or there's always a nice hole in the ground.
Composting - How It Works
It's like regular composting but more dignified. Recompose, a facility in Washington State, surrounds the deceased with alfalfa, wood chips, and straw in stainless steel capsules and periodically rotates them at temperatures between 130°F and 160°F. The result, after 30 days (plus a few more weeks of curing), is "a cubic yard of soil amendment."
Getting composted is cheaper than being buried, largely because it doesn't require real estate. But the long composting period requires a lot of maintenance, so it will still set you (or, rather, your heirs) back around $7,000.
Alkaline Hydrolysis - How It Works
The body is placed in a stainless steel container filled with 95 percent water and 5 percent alkali (i.e., lye) that is then pressurized and heated to 300°F. After three hours, all that's left are a brittle skeleton that can be crushed into powder and a liquid safe enough to be discharged into a municipal waste system. It costs $1,500 to $4,000, but boosters note that it results in 20 to 30 percent "more ash remains returned to the family."
Alkaline hydrolysis uses less energy than cremation, which requires temperatures well over 1,200°F (usually involving gas heat), but more than a natural burial. You may also need to spring for a bigger urn.
Natural Burial - How It Works
While "six feet under" is the classic grave-digging metric, the Green Burial Council recommends 3.5 feet to accelerate decomposition while still discouraging scavengers. "Animals are much more interested in living prey above ground," reads the council's FAQ. "We're just not that delicious." If the soil is warm, loamy, and well drained, most bodies decay completely in 12 years. Flourishes meant to speed the process, like mushroom suits, are more for fashion. Plenty of organisms already present in the soil and in our own bodies are ready to tackle the job.
Natural burial has to happen quickly—ideally within three days of death and often involving a judicious use of dry ice before then. Plots are usually less expensive than for conventional burials but are still in the realm of $10,000. Geography is important: If you live in an area with a high water table, like much of Louisiana, earth burial is a challenge.
You'll generate the highest posthumous carbon emissions by being buried in an energy-intensive concrete vault. Cremation comes next, followed by composting and alkaline hydrolysis, with natural burial creating few, if any, emissions. Remember that the carbon you can save after death is nothing compared with what you're capable of while still alive. Plan for your eventual demise, but make your impact here, working to leave the climate better than you found it.
This article appeared in the Fall quarterly edition of ‘Sierra’ The Magazine of the Sierra Club, with the headline "The Green Reaper."
In Memory of Dr. Steven Goodman, PhD
Steven Goodman recently passed and this morning our Sangha did a Vajrasattva puja for him via Zoom. Steve was a "vintage" student of Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche who called him "Pigeon" in the old days. Steve's mind was in flight and his heart was all about sharing Dharma. He gave so much to us and to Buddhism in America, and until recently taught at Orgyen Dorje Den Temple in Alameda, CA. His many hats included being an advisor to the Khyentse Foundation since it's inception in 2001. He was Director of Research and Core Faculty of the Asian and Comparative Studies program in the Philosophy and Religion Department at CIIS, where he taught Buddhism and comparative philosophy. He was a former Rockefeller fellow and visiting professor in religious studies at Rice University, and taught and lectured widely on Buddhism, meditation, and Western psychology for 25 years. He was also the coeditor of 'Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation' and a contributor to 'Mindfulness and Meaningful Work'. Among his writings is a recent book 'The Buddhist Psychology of Awakening', and the wonderful piece we share here, 'Remembering Mysteries of Death: Personal Encounters with The Tibetan Book of the Dead'. We will always remember Dr. Goodman with great heart and bow to him with gratitude and faith, knowing his path is leading him on to realization. Please click the link below to see the article.