Accepted Paper:

Disposal of the dead: beyond burial and cremation  
Michael Arnold (University of Melbourne)Tamara Kohn (University of Melbourne)Elizabeth Hallam (University of Oxford)Martin Gibbs (University of Melbourne)

Paper short abstract:

Burial and cremation are profoundly important practices that are under serious challenge from alternative methods for the disposal of the dead. This presentation describes work to investigate the social, cultural, technical and personal challenges posed by these alternatives.

Paper long abstract:

Seven billion bodies will be disposed of in the next 100 years as baby-boomers age and the developed world enters a period of "peak-death". Put starkly, at an average of 65kg per person and 55.3m deaths per annum, 3.6 billion kilograms of flesh, bone and blood must be disposed of each year, at a time when environmental concerns are at crisis point for many and the grip of tradition on funerary practices is weakening. In this problematic context, historically standardised forms of body disposal are actively challenged by technological innovations that offer new methods. Each of these innovations lay claim to environmental advantage, technical effectiveness, scalability, cost competitiveness, and sensitivity to religious, cultural and social diversity in ritual and ceremony.

This paper describes these innovative and scalable alternatives to, and elaborations of, burial and cremation - such as alkaline hydrolysis, use of liquid nitrogen and other thermal processes, mycelium body suits, Urban Composting, Natural Burial, and carbon trading among crematoria.

Taken together, these alternative and elaborative disposal technologies problematise cremation and burial. They match a critique of current disposal practices with suggested alternatives, alternatives that go beyond disposal technique qua technology to imply different approaches to the body - to what it is, and what its future can and should be; to personhood - what its relationship to the body is, and how this might be variously expressed; to the earth - and to death's relationship to it; and to the cosmos - how people attribute larger meaning to life.

Panel P14
Life after waste