West Coast dwellers have long held a reputation for being almost fanatical when it comes to things like composting, recycling, and other forms of environmental activism. As Wall Street Journal contributor Katy Muldoon puts it in a recent feature, “When it comes to the mellow mantra ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ the laid-back West Coast is hard core.”

Muldoon is absolutely spot-on in her assessment of West Coast environmental activists, especially those living in Seattle, Portland, and various regions in California. The Pacific Northwest in particular is a hub for organic foods, innovative approaches to recycling, and hyper awareness about how to live a sustainable, environmentally-conscious life. “Garden-variety plastic bag and bottle bans or now-ubiquitous electronics and pharmaceuticals recycling efforts are old news,” explains Muldoon. “In Portland’s suburbs, a plan is brewing to craft boutique beer from purified sewage water.”


Yes, you definitely read that right. And although for many of us the thought of turning something like sewage water into an artisanal beverage concept is disgusting at worst and bizarre at best, for people like Katrina Spade, this isn’t even the most extreme idea out there. Ms. Spade is a Seattle-based designer and “climate fellow” for the nonprofit Echoing Green. Founded in 1987, Echoing Green has been tremendously influential in supporting social entrepreneurs like Ms. Spade. With vital support from prominent donors like David Rosenstein of General Atlantic, Morgan Stanley, Carrie Denning of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, Robert and Nellie Gipson, the Livestrong Foundation, and hundreds of others, the organization has helped turn innovative ideas into solutions to the world’s biggest social problems.

Echoing Green has partnered with Katrina Spade’s latest environmental initiative, an extreme recycling program called the “Urban Death Project,” that aims to sustainably dispose of the dead using the process of composting. According to the project’s website,

“At the heart of the project is a three-story core, within which bodies and high-carbon materials are placed. Over the span of a few months, which the help of aerobic decomposition and microbial activity, the bodies decompose fully, leaving a rich compost. The Urban Death Project is not simple a system for turning out bodies into soil-building material. It is also a space for the contemplation of our place in the natural world, and a ritual to help us say goodbye to our loved ones by connecting us with the cycles of nature.”

Ms. Spade’s project is an incredibly innovative take on urban environmental activism, and definitely serves as a strong example of the lengths that West Coasters will go to recycle.

For even more information about West Coast environmental and recycling initiatives, be sure to read Katy Muldoon’s informative article, “Why West Coast Recyclers Think Sewage Water Might Make Good Beer.”

How do you weigh in on these “extreme” environmental measures? Would you drink beer brewed using sewage water?