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Human Composting - A Burial Alternative

"A Recompose vessel with plant material surrounding a dummy body." Source: SABEL ROIZEN

Human composting, or "Natural Organic Reduction (NOR)", is a new, somewhat controversial, eco-friendly alternative to traditional burial or cremation, in which a human body is transformed into nutrient rich soil.

According to USFuneralsOnline, human composting is an accelerated method of human decomposition where the body is placed in a steel container along with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Oxygen and heat are then applied to speed the decomposition process. Oxygen increases the growth of microbes that break down the organic matter, while heat helps maintain an optimal temperature for the process.

The contents of the cylinder are “blended” regularly for 30 days to help break up remaining bone into smaller fragments, yielding one cubic yard of soil when the process is complete. (Any inorganic medical implants are removed.)

"'It's a lot like a compost you might buy at a nursery. It's dark, rich soil,' according to Katrina Spade, founder of Recompose, a Seattle-based funeral home who was the first to offer the service in the U.S."

GreenMatters states that human composting is now legal in 3 states - Washington, Colorado, and Oregon - while California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York are all considering bills to legalize it.

Costs for this service run between $5,000 - $7,000, with the whole process requiring 4-6 weeks. The resulting soil can be taken home by the family in an urn, buried or scattered in a cemetery, or used for environmental projects since it will be "very nutrient-rich and make excellent fertilizer." It is important to note that, at least in Colorado, the soil of multiple people cannot be combined without consent, nor can the soil be sold or used to grow food for human consumption. (Colorado does have a burial preserve where human soil may be buried or scattered.)

Proponents of this burial alternative claim "it uses an eighth of the energy that a flame cremation uses, making it much more energy-saving and environmentally friendly" and saves one metric ton of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere for every person who chooses it over a traditional burial method.

While human composting has been generally accepted by many in the green movement and natural burial community, some religious leaders and others oppose the practice, considering it a "disrespectful" way to treat the human body. The Colorado Catholic Conference, for example, has been in opposition because the church teaches "that the human body is sacred and the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral society,” according to news outlets.

Other companies currently offering this service include Return Home and Herland Forest, both in Washington state.

Thanks to guest author, Lydia Staggers, for the information in this post.

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