‘Ecological Burial’ or ‘Body Composting’ are names for a method of burial which has gained media attention and popularity in recent years. Several companies offer services in which the deceased’ body is put through refrigeration, chemical, or decomposition processes that turn the body into nutrient-rich compost so they can be integrated into soil, usually closely tied to ideas of eco-friendliness or being close to nature. Simply due to its relation to death rites and the disposal of bodies but also because of its core ideals, body composting has close connections to the body and culture. In this essay, I shall approach how body composting relates to culture, seeing how this recently-introduced method of burial can be of both symbolic and functional significance.
From a symbolic/interpretive perspective, the concept of body composting is a matter of image and communication, frequently conveying environmentalist values by using the body as a cultural symbol. Clifford Geertz argues in his text Symbolic and Interpretive Anthropology that culture is “embodied in public symbols and actions”, and one’s body, particularly in death, has huge cultural importance on a public level, holding meaning in a cultural context. Similar to how scattering ashes from cremation, a Tibetan sky burial, or a Christian ground burial have philosophical and ritual connections, ecological burial stands for certain beliefs and conveys the deceased’ values to their whole culture. The body serves as a direct symbol that communicates how a person viewed the world, transmitting ideals such as a dedication to nature or being involved in the broader cycle of life. Body composting works well in the context of Geertz’ webs of significance: many humans imbue cultural meaning in being eco-friendly or close to the natural world (forming the webs), and body composting works to make one’s body an ultimate symbolic gesture in support of those concepts (man becoming ‘suspended in those webs’, using his/her own body).
Another way to look at body composting is through a functionalist perspective. Proponents of ecological burial argue that body composting is not only symbolic but also serves a definite purpose for the benefit of their whole society. Standard methods of burial fail to meet certain needs of a culture, frequently taking up or wasting resources, and many of these issues are addressed by body composting. There is often a lack of burial space in cities, with cemeteries becoming increasingly crowded, urbanized, and impersonal. Additionally, the body holds nutrients which are usually wasted in standard burial but can be effectively recycled for agricultural growth through body composting (the bodies of livestock are already used in some places for fertilizer in agriculture). Among functionalism’s seven basic needs are bodily comforts and nutrition, which are addressed by body composting when the process contributes to making more spacious and well-organized cities as well as aiding in food production. Utilizing human bodies not only works as a symbolic gesture in support of nature; through a functionalist lens, it also directly serves the basic needs of the culture, taking up less space and helping agriculture.
 McGee, R. Jon and Richard L. Warms. 2004. Anthropological Theory: An Introductory History (Third Edition). New York: McGraw HIll. pg. 467.
 Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 31 Aug. 2015
: http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29531810/Functionalism#footnote-3, accessed Nov.4