The Urban Death Project

LOCATION: Seattle, Washington, USA

Build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller

SUMMARY: The Urban Death Project (UDP) has designed a scalable, regenerative death care model based on the natural process of decomposition. In the Recomposition centers that the UDP envisions, bodies and forest waste are composted and transformed into soil. These centers are hybrid public park, funeral home, and memorial space, with the potential to be situated in repurposed urban infrastructure. The first full-scale Recomposition center is designed to be located in the city of Seattle, Washington. The Recomposition process eliminates the need for the millions of feet of hardwood, tons of concrete, gallons of toxic embalming fluids, and land required for traditional funerary practices (burial or cremation), while giving back to the earth with nutrient compost. The Urban Death Project’s solution to today’s toxic, $20 billion funeral industry presents a new model of death care that is both human- and nature-centric.

This project is uniquely comprehensive in that what happens to our bodies after death has enormous, universal environmental and cultural impacts. The dramatic shift from traditional burial toward cremation in the last 50 years is promising in terms of the potential for rapid cultural uptake.

The UDP’s efforts to design a new model for death care that makes the existing model obsolete is exemplary, particularly when considering magnitude of the problem they seek to solve. The work of the UDP is spurring a wider public debate about the enormous costs–both economic and environmental–of the burial industry as a whole. The UDP has done the hard spadework on the regulatory front, but future Recomposition centers will be their own legal entities. The model is meant to be adaptable and optimal for community adoption in a variety of contexts.

PROBLEM SPACE: “The funeral industry is a broken system: economically, socially, and environmentally.

Modern funerary practices put an enormous strain on the environment. Conventional burial, chosen by 50% of Americans, is wasteful and toxic. Every year in U.S. cemeteries we bury 30 million board-feet of hardwood, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete, and millions of gallons of formaldehyde-laden embalming fluid. These stave off natural decomposition, in a direct affront to natureäó»s perfect design. And beyond the tremendous waste inherent in burial is the massive amount of embodied energy from the manufacture and transport of caskets, headstones, and grave liners.

In addition, cemeteries all over the world are reaching capacity; the concept of one person owning a plot for eternity is flawed and unsustainable.

As a result, cremation rates have risen from 3% (U.S.) in 1960 to almost 50% today. But cremation destroys our potential to give back to the earth after death. It uses an energy-intensive process to turn bodies into ash, polluting and contributing to climate change. Annually, cremation emits a staggering 600 million pounds of CO2 in the U.S. alone.

The truth is, the last gesture that most of us will make on this earth is toxic.”

SOLUTION: The Urban Death Project (UDP) is joining with nature to revolutionize death care. We’ve created an ecological and meaningful new option for our bodies when we die, because current funerary practices are toxic, polluting, and disconnected from the natural ecosystem.