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  • Published 20120904
  • ISBN: 9781921922596
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

AYUKAWA WAS PUT on the map when it was wiped off it. A little-known hamlet of rusting hulks and geriatrics, its location on the south-eastern tip of Honshu’s Oshika Peninsula gave it the grim honour of being the closest community to the epicentre of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the first landfall of the tsunami that followed and, for a time, the focus of world attention.

Eyewitness footage suggests a Godzilla movie scene: splintered houses float in a ten-metre-deep grey soup, boats caught in the adjacent forest like flies in a spider’s web, cars flipped on their backs like stranded beetles. Over a thousand bodies washed up in the steep coves of the Oshika Peninsula in the days following the tsunami. In Ayukawa, three out of four houses were destroyed, seventy-eight of its 1,400 residents were confirmed dead while thirty-six remain unaccounted for.

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Smoking hot bodies

Since 2013, South Korea has mandated the use of compost bins for uneaten food and the country now recycles an estimated 95 per cent of its food waste. Similar schemes exist in Europe and North America, and in June, Nevada became the seventh American state – after Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California and New York – to legalise human composting.

Known as ‘terramation’ or ‘natural organic reduction’, the process entails a certified undertaker placing the cadaver beneath woodchips, lucerne and straw in a reusable box, where, with the controlled addition of heat and oxygen, it decomposes within eight weeks. Anything inorganic (hip replacements, pacemakers) is then removed, and remaining bone and teeth fragments ground down and added to the mix. The deceased’s loved ones can spread the compost as they choose, with no need for concrete burial vaults and steel caskets, or the energy required for cremation.

Unlike the usual resistance to decarbonisation from those in the business of polluting, opposition to terramation has come from an unexpected source: Catholicism. The Catholic Conference – which represents the Church’s bishops – in each US state where the practice is legal has denounced it as an attack on the dignity of the body and a threat to its eventual reunification with the soul…

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