Soils are fertile ecosystems that contain living microorganisms, eroded ancient rock materials, and decayed organic matter. When soils on our planet are healthy, they help sustain all life on Earth from the tiniest organisms only visible through microscopes to humans and other animals who call countless different habitats home. Healthy soils help plants thrive, mitigate stormwater runoff, sequester carbon, improve farmer’s crop yields, cycle nutrients, and more. When soils are polluted and otherwise destroyed, these once dynamic ecosystems lose many of their beneficial properties and while we often think our impact on soil health is limited to actions we take in our daily lives, that’s not the case. Even in death we have the ability to either nourish or harm living soils.
In Of Dirt and Decomposition: Proposing a Place for the Urban Dead, Katrina Spade, Founder and CEO of Recompose, examines the alarming data related to the funeral-industrial-complex: “The annual tally of buried materials in U.S. cemeteries is more than 30 million board-feet of hardwood and 90,000 tons of steel in coffins, 17,000 tons of steel and copper in vaults, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete in vaults, and more than 750,000 gallons of formaldehyde-laden embalming fluid.” Spade goes on to explain that the combination of air-tight caskets and about three gallons of formaldehyde result in “a soup of putrefied toxic liquid” that “[pollutes] the very soil to which [we] owe [our] lives.” Spade’s company, Recompose, is working to address these and other issues related to death care practices that harm the planet and perpetuate narratives about death that prevent people from understanding the full nature of life on Earth. Death care practices that could benefit from composting.
At Recompose death care specialists participate in a process known as natural organic reduction, otherwise known as human composting. Phases one through five are detailed on their website as follows:
The Cycle Begins
“Natural organic reduction (NOR), also
known as human composting, is powered
by beneficial microbes that occur naturally
on our bodies and in the environment.
The Laying In
“Our staff lay the body in a cradle surrounded
by wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. The
cradle is placed into a Recompose vessel
and covered with more plant material.”
“The body and plant material remain in the
vessel for 30 days. Microbes break everything
down on the molecular level, resulting in
the formation of a nutrient‑dense soil.”
“Each body creates one cubic yard of
soil amendment, which is removed from
the vessel and allowed to cure. Once
completed, it can be used to enrich
conservation land, forests, or gardens.”
Life After Death
“The soil created returns the nutrients
from our bodies to the natural
world. It restores forests, sequesters carbon, and nourishes new life.”
People who choose to have their body undergo this process have the option to donate their soil to Bells Mountain, a 700-acre nonprofit land trust in Washington. “The land’s caretakers use the soil donated by Recompose to support the continued revitalization of wetlands, riparian habitats, local plants, and vulnerable wildlife species,” and the process itself results in the removal of about .84 to 1.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. Compared to the 28 gallons of gas needed for a single cremation, and the negative environmental impact of traditional burials, NOR is the alternative death care practice gift that keeps on giving.
NOR is currently only legal in two states but legislators in New York are working to make human composting an option. The proposed bill, A00382/S05535, “provides for the creation, operation, and duties of natural organic reduction facilities as cemetery corporations for the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.” Despite pushback from the New York State Catholic Conference, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin told the Niagara Gazette that NOR is “cleaner and greener” than traditional burial practices and that it’s “in line with many religious practices.” Catholic leaders urge that it is “essential the body of a deceased person be treated with reverence and respect.” Not only does NOR prevent poisons from polluting the bodies of deceased persons, it also allows the organic matter of which bodies are composed to truly return to the Earth and nourish new life. When it comes to “reverence and respect for human remains,” a key consideration for Catholic critics of the proposed bill, a death care practice that honors natural cycles, encourages healing of the planet, and allows bodies to become one with the Earth without spreading toxins could be an environmentally and spiritually friendly option.
But the point of NOR isn’t just to add another “green” action to one’s to-do list. Too often, the burden of repairing structural and systemic issues is aimed at individuals, many of whom are chronically disenfranchised. Even the death care industry has a history of discrimination and disenfranchisement that calls the idea of death being the great equalizer into the question. In Greening Death, Suzanne Kelly explains that “before the 1930s, Chinese Americans were barred from becoming funeral directors, leaving their experiences of death, as well as their death customs, in the hands of white actors.” She goes on to add that “until 1968 it was legal for cemeteries to refuse to bury bodies on the basis of race.”
Now, the $15 billion death care industry has the opportunity to center equity, public health, and planetary healing. From educating people about the complex history of the industry to increasing access to ecology-focused burial options, the harmful elements of the funeral-industrial complex can be abolished. One composted human body at a time. Additionally, access to other alternatives to traditional burial can be increased with the help of information campaigns and advocacy for policy and legislation in death care management that offer people more options.
It’s time for society to stop treating cemeteries like landfills. Humans are part of natural cycles of life and death that can help us heal the planet instead of continuing to cause harm. With NOR humans can actually become worm food when they die, as all organic matter ultimately does, instead of source material for groundwater pollution. NOR gives people the option to help heal living soils instead of destroy them. Since we don’t just live on Earth but with Earth, the option to give back in this way allows us to really leave no trace. Only healthy soil.
You may have read the title of this post and thought: “Everyone knows how to recycle, do I really need to put up signs?” Yes you do! It’s very, very important, and it’s the law!. Most people know, or think they know, the basics of recycling, but when they are standing in front of three or more bins with a variety of waste products they are suddenly afflicted with trash-amnesia (not a real thing), or they’re skeptical that the location even recycles. TAKE THE GUESS WORK OUT OF IT. Recycling can be complicated, so confusion is understandable, but it should be 100% clear that your business does in fact recycle, and signs will make it clear! This assurance will motivate employees and customers to take the extra moment to sort their trash accurately, helping eliminate contamination of the recycling stream.
Waste stream contamination is one of the biggest problems in the recycling industry, and this problem can cripple the economics of recycling. Sorting mass amounts of recycling later in the process is time-consuming, costly, and detrimental — getting it right at the source is key, and that’s where you come in. Recycle Across America is a nonprofit devoted to solving this exact problem and their simple solution is, you guessed it, labels! (Another word for signage). We agree.
In order to get your employees and customers recycling properly, we cannot stress enough the importance of having accurately colored bins and clear signage. The standard in America is to have two blue bins (one for mixed paper and another for glass, cans and plastic), a green bin for compost, and a black bin for landfill. Color coding your receptacles is the first step, but including clear signage is even more important, and clearly labeled bins are the law in NYC, as of August 1st 2017! Ideally, post multiple signs on each bin so they are visible from the front and the top. Successful signage clearly states the type of waste to be disposed of and provides multiple examples of items that belong in each bin, using pictures.
If you work in a food establishment, consider the exact type of waste that your customers and employees will be sorting and address those in your signage. If you only have one sign or label, it’s best to put it on the top of (or on the wall just above) the bin to ensure that folks know what to do when they are standing over it. Always keep your receptacles arranged in the same order too, to avoid confusion.
These simple steps can make a real difference in your ability to recycle effectively. We’ve mentioned this before, but employees prefer to work for companies that display a sense of awareness and responsibility for the world. Similarly, customers like to support socially responsible businesses. So be a responsible recycler! For the sake of your business and the sake of our planet.
If you want a consultation about responsible recycling in your space, give us a shout! We will gladly perform a waste audit, suggest optimal receptacle placement, provide customized and laminated signage, and train your employees to be recycling experts.
NYC’s commercial composting laws are in place and being enforced. Never fear, we’ll help you stay up to date and in compliance!
The most recent official notice regarding commercial organics rules was released on January 19, 2016. Link to the official notice here. The rules were put into effect on July 19, 2016 and were made enforceable by law on January 19, 2017. These rules are outlined below for your convenience.
What types of businesses are required by NYC law to separate their organic waste?
For these businesses, what types of organics must be separated?
How to comply and avoid violations:
TAGS: Hauling, Signage, Sustainability, Food Waste, Composting, Commercial Composting, DSNY, Laws, Regulations, Compliance, Waste Audit, Organic Waste
Whether you work in a shared office space with a foosball table, a fancy corporate headquarters with a skyline view, a hot new restaurant, a late-night music venue, or a boutique cafe prizing latte art, you and your coworkers produce a variety of “waste”. Dealing with that waste is complicated, no doubt about it, and while environmentally responsible waste management isn’t always the easiest thing, it doesn’t have to be too difficult either. So whether you own a business, or work somewhere that could use a second look at its waste management policies, we’ve outlined some information below to help ease you into an environmentally sustainable operation.
In 2016 the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) released an Official Notice that outlines new recycling requirements for businesses. These will be enforceable by law starting August 2017. Additionally, as of July 19, 2016, certain large food waste generators in NYC are required by law to separate their organics. Official Notice here. The organics law applies if you are:
For more information on the regulations, we’ve written a POST for you!
If none of the above apply to you, but you want to compost your organic waste anyway, we applaud you! Here are some compelling reasons to justify this change to your employees, to convince your boss, or just to brag…
Now armed with five reasons to compost, how do you actually go about putting your fantastic idea into action? The easiest thing to do would be to call or email your friends at Common Ground Compost so we can evaluate your business and help you implement a new system that fits seamlessly with your current operation. But if you’re a DIY’er (much respect), here are some steps you can take…
FIRST: How are you going to dispose of your organic waste?
a.) Hire a private hauler for multiple waste streams, including food waste. It’s
a good idea to get multiple quotes to find the best price. HERE is a list of vendors as of 2015 to get you started. We recommend asking about the programs a potential hauler provides and confirming they work with your type of business.
b.) Hire a micro-hauler (for organic waste only). The following organizations work in NYC and, for a small fee, will pick up your organics and process them locally.
c.) Self-transport. Most NYC businesses will not elect to self-transport organic waste to a processing facility, but if you do, you must register with the NYC Business Integrity
d.) Process on site. For most NYC businesses, processing organic waste on site
will not be possible. However if you are able and choose to do so, you must register
with the DSNY within 30 days of installing on-site processing equipment – check out our post on commercial compost regulations, or contact us to discuss!
SECOND: Depending on who will be processing your organic waste, make sure you know the rules for what can and cannot be composted. This can vary greatly depending on whether your hauler uses an aerobic or anaerobic process, or whether they are a massive facility or a local organization. This is especially true when it comes to dairy and meat products. We can help by contacting your hauling company and/or speaking directly to the compost facility.
THIRD: Educate your employees or fellow co-workers. Find out who on staff is particularly excited to be composting and see if they are interested in managing the process. Make sure your new waste management system is clear enough for a baby to understand. Color coded bins and signs can be really helpful here. We love signage.
FOURTH: Shout it out, loud and proud! Let all customers and visitors know how to dispose of their waste effectively. Make it known that you’re a business that cares about the environment. Post it on your website! Put a sign in the window. No one will chide you for gloating about your waste stream mastery, quite the contrary.
AND IF THAT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF WORK…
What with all the other responsibilities you have at your job… call us! That’s why we’re here. We’ll come to your place of business (our first site visit is complimentary), and we can perform a waste audit. Next, we’ll contact your existing haulers to make sure you’re getting the best deal on all of your waste streams. If you’re not, we’ll help you get the best bang for your buck. During that initial site visit, we will walk through your business to understand your current layout, and can work with you to determine a seamless waste strategy, educate your employees, set up the necessary infrastructure, and be available to you for any hiccups or questions that arise while you’re adapting. We even provide high fives, free of charge! We love high-fives almost as much as we love composting.