What happens to our bodies after we die? Right now, there are really only a few options. Either we donate our body to science, lay in a box in the ground, or get cremated, but what if we could become human compost instead?
In many places around the world, graveyards are full or filling up fast. Cremation helps solve that problem, but it does creates carbon dioxide emissions. However, one woman had a different idea: Human compost. Now, the world’s first funeral home in Washington offers this service, allowing people to literally give back to the Earth after their death. (1)
The World’s First-Ever Human Compost Funeral Home
In 2011, while still in University, Katrina Spade first started to think about what happens to the human body after death. As an environmentally conscious person, she was unhappy with the current options and wanted to do better. She thought humans are a part of nature, so why don’t we re-integrate into nature after death? From here, the idea of human compost was born. (1)
Fast-forward a few years, and she has created Recompose, a company dedicated to ecological deathcare. After some hard work and advocating, Washington passed a law legalizing natural, organic reduction. Today, Recompose has already turned its first 10 customers back into the soil that we ultimately all came from. (2)
How Human Composting Works
Recompose’s facility is discreetly set up somewhere in Kent, Washington. On the outside, it appears just like the industrial workshops and warehouses that it is surrounded by. However, inside stands a massive, white structure that looks somewhat like an odd spaceship and like a white, steel honeycomb. (2)
The structure contains 10 cylinders or vessels in which the client’s body is placed. Along with the body, staff put alfalfa, straw, and woodchips. (3) This provides the optimal conditions required for the body to decompose (3):
The whole process takes 30 days, and by the end of it, the body has turned into nutrient-rich soil. Each body creates about one cubic yard’s worth of soil. Recompose either gives the soil to the family members or donates it to an ecological restoration project. (3)
There are several regulations in place by the state of Washington to ensure the soil’s safety and quality. These are (2):
- The soil must maintain a temperature of 131F for 72 hours to safely “cook” away all pathogens like fecal coliform and salmonella.
- Recompose, and a third party must test the final product for pathogens and heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, and mercury.
- People who died with certain diseases, such as tuberculosis, or prior infections such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, are not eligible for human composting.
“This is a very controlled process, completely driven by microbes,” Spade said. “It’s fueled by plant material and monitored in a very rigorous way.” (2)
The Environmental Benefits
This concept is revolutionary in terms of making what we do with our deceased more environmentally-friendly. A traditional burial can be quite toxic to the land and takes up a lot of space. Cremation dumps CO2 into the atmosphere. (1)
According to Recompose, human composting saves one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions when compared to conventional methods. (1)
Still A Proper Burial
The team at Recompose insists that taking care of the dead and their families is just as important to them as it is to a conventional funeral home. Having only started operations in January of this year, all ceremonies have had to be live-streamed for the loved ones online. Post-pandemic, however, they will be in-person. (2)
“As I’ve learned more about Recompose, I’ve found it to be a very graceful and beautiful way to go,” said Charlotte Bontrager, whose mother Paulie was one of the first to undergo the process. “It’s the natural way, the way every living thing in history has eventually been cared for, from an apple core to a human — you’re not being burned up, not being pumped full of embalming chemicals and taking up space in a container. It seems like a peaceful way for the body to move on to the next phase.” (2)
Recompose costs $5,500 per person. (4) Comparatively, in Kent, Washington, the cremations can range from $525 to $4,165, and a traditional funeral ranges from $1,390 for the most basic burial (no funeral service included) to $11,100 for a complete, high-end funeral. (2)
With Recompose, there are no ranges or fluctuations.
The Future of Human Compost
Recompose and Washington State are the first to begin human composting, but others are coming on board. California, Oregon, and Colorado are also considering similar legislation for it. Recompose now has two competitors, Return to Home and Herland Forest, as well. To Spade and her team, this is all good news. (1)
“If we’re trying to make an impact on climate change, which we are, it’s going to take more than just Recompose,” she said. (1)
If you want to learn more about Recompose ecological deathcare, visit their website here.
- “The First U.S. Funeral Home That Turns Bodies Into Compost Is Now Open.” Vice. Eleanor Cummins. February 5, 2021.
- “Recompose, the first human-composting funeral home in the U.S. is now open for business.” Seattle Times. Brendan Kiley. January 22, 2021.
- “The Process.” Recompose. Accessed February 9th, 2021
- “Pricing.” Recompose. Accessed February 9th, 2021