Compost burials really work.

Science News digs into the science behind leaving the world a slightly more fertile place when you go, by having your body naturally composted after death:

The results, presented February 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, suggest that composting, also called natural organic reduction, is a way to handle dead bodies that’s easy on the Earth.

In a news briefing, soil scientist Lynne Carpenter-Boggs of Washington State University in Pullman described a pilot experiment in which six bodies were put into vessels that contained plant material and routinely rotated to provide optimal conditions for decomposition. About four to seven weeks later, microbes in the material reduced the bodies to skeletons.

Each body resulted 1.5 to 2 cubic yards of soil-like material containing bones. Commercial processes would likely use more thorough methods to process the bones, said Carpenter-Boggs, who is a research adviser to Recompose. Her analyses also have shown that the resulting soil meets safety standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for such contaminants as heavy metals.

Animal carcasses have long been turned into rich soil in similar ways, DeBruyn says. “The idea of applying it to humans, to me, as an ecologist and someone who has worked in composting, it just makes perfect sense, honestly.” The heat produced by busy microbes has the added benefit of killing off dangerous pathogens. “Automatic sterilization,” DeBruyn calls it. Once when composting cattle, “the pile got so hot that our temperature probes were reading off the charts, and the wood chips were actually scorched,” DeBruyn says.

You can read the AAAS here (login required).