The Corpse Project is leading a debate about options for our bodies after death and helping inform our choices. We are part of the wider conversation about death and dying which is gaining momentum. Our focus is on the absent guest at the table, the body itself, and we ask how we can lay it to rest in ways that help the living and the earth.
One death does not have a great environmental cost. We are likely to have more carbon impact by taking a minibreak to a European city, and how often do many of us do that? But collectively our deaths do have an environmental impact – about 500,000 people die in England every year – and we should keep working at reducing that impact. Hand in hand, we need good and relevant rituals, as varied as our diverse society needs them to be.
We publish our first findings at the end of this month (join our email list to receive them). Meanwhile here are some things we have been exploring:
- If we want to return our bodies through burial, to the ‘natural cycle’, is shallow burial better than deep? Intuitively we’d say yes, because that is where the nutrient action takes place. But how shallow, what does the soil need to be like and how long is the benefit?
- ‘Natural’ decomposition has some greenhouse gas effects, including the highly potent methane. Does this hint that efficient cremation might be better in some respects?
- Traditional burial and cremation are here to stay. What stops them being as good as possible for people and the planet? What about new technologies, like dissolving?
- ‘Ashes’ are ground bone and you would expect them to be good for the soil, like ‘blood, fish and bone’ for the garden. But is it as straightforward as this?
There are inspiring people working in the death industry and technology is on our side. In the next generation we may see developments as significant as when cremation was first introduced around 130 years ago.
On World Environment Day, you can’t have a better example than the corpse of the need to capture hearts as well as minds, to change our behaviour. The Corpse Project interrogates the science, but also tries to understand our thoughts and feelings, so that we can change our practice in the one thing which all humanity shares and needs to do well: saying goodbye to our precious physical home, and thanking the planet in the process.