A few years ago I wrote my first novella, Die, Blossom, Bloom. In it I had this crazy notion that the poor protagonist had a secret to keep, and the secret was that he killed his wife. Not that killing his wife was particularly unusual, but I had this idea that because his wife was such a keen gardener, our protagonist would dispose of his wife’s body by putting her in the giant compost bin that stood out in his garden.
At the time I had no idea if this was even possible. I did some searching around on the Internet looking for scientific papers or articles that covered this topic. If anybody had looked at my search history over that time, it would have said “how can I compost a human body?”, “Is it possible to compost a human body?”, “How long would it take to compost a human body?” I would be lying if said it didn’t cross my mind that someone might think some very unsavoury thoughts about me on reading these searches. In fact, let me just state for the record right from the off, I have NEVER composted a human body, just in case you were wondering.
Surprisingly (it is the Internet after all) there was very little information about composting human corpses to be found, so instead I settled on reading information about the composting of animal corpses, rationalising that they couldn’t be that different from humans.
I wanted to know how long would it take, what would the conditions need to be, and what could be done with the resultant mulch. In the end, I settled on a two-year timeframe, with some bones and teeth left over. As you do.
I’m not quite sure why this popped back into my mind last week, but I just thought I would pop the search term “composting human body,” into my search engine and see if there was any more information available now. As it turns out, there is. Within half a second I was rewarded with over 16 million hits, the first page being taken up by recent legislation that was passed in Washington St. USA, making human composting legal.
At first glance I thought that seemed quite strange, however, this is something my wife and I have discussed in the past. No, not killing each other and leaving the body out in the garden to decompose, but rather the environmental impact of burials and cremations. An increasing number of people are considering their energy usage, and the vast amounts of energy that is consumed at the end of our lives. Born out of this concern, step forward Recompose, a Seattle-based company offering accelerated form of decomposition for human bodies.
How does it work?
Recompose offer a procedure where the corpse is placed in a vessel with wood chips, alfalfa and straw. Oxygen is then pumped in to increase Thermophilic (heat loving) microbial activity then after a month or so a corpse will yield about cubic yard of soil which can then be given to the deceased’s family or used by a conservation group.
Prof Linda Carpenter-Boggs, from Washington State University, highlighted that the procedure we already use on livestock with just a few changes could be made more socially acceptable. Aside from using similar composting materials which allow the thermophilic microbes to get to work, remains are also heated up to 55°C which would kill off all contagion so the soil is safe to use.
Nora Menkin, Of the People’s Memorial, a non-profit funerary service advocacy group in Seattle said
We have all this energy and potential that is either burned up or sealed away burials, when it could be utilised to let life go on.
However, this is where our protagonist comes unstuck, in that disposing of any human remains on non-cemetery grounds without the correct permissions is illegal. Did I need to state that? I put another questionable search term into Google, “can I bury my wife in my garden?” To find out exactly what the law says. Just for research purposes you understand (I’m dictating this and when I said that last search term, my wife looked up at me from her puzzle).
As it turns out, it is legal to be buried on your own property if you own it entirely, the burial plot is far enough away from a ditch or water source, meets the Environment Agency rules. There is also a raft of documentation that you will need to be in possession of. This information comes from the aptly named simplydead.co.uk
Suffice to say our protagonist did not have the required documentation, did not register death, and did all he could to keep the death a secret, which led to the key conflict in DBB: a nosy neighbour that wants to needle our protagonist into giving up secret, and our protagonist who is keen to go to any lengths to preserve it.
Well there you have it, a rather strange post but I am a horror author and this is one of the more creative methods I’ve come up with for body disposal! But just to confirm, there are some key points to remember:
Try not to kill people on purpose
Make sure you get relevant permissions and documentation if you do kill someone
Please leave plenty of time for the body to decompose
Ensure you follow all Environment Agency guidelines when disposing of the remains
Give some thought to the environment when you are planning your own funeral
My question to you:
Have you killed anyone off in an unusual way (your fiction, obviously)? How?